CONTRIBUTORS

Gay marriage in context

Posted March 06, 2012, at 3:48 p.m.

Recent months have shown progress for the issue of same-sex marriage. Prop 8, the California referendum that rescinded gay marriage, has been declared unconstitutional. The Maryland Washington State and New Jersey legislatures all passed gay marriage laws.

Momentum seems to be building for the cause, although Gov. Christie vetoed the New Jersey law.

A California judge ruled part of the Defense of Marriage Act violated the constitutional rights of gay couples when Blue Cross benefits were denied to the spouse of a government worker. The ruling said that the “imposition of subjective moral beliefs of a majority upon a minority” cannot justify DOMA.

The issue of gay marriage has now resurfaced in Maine, with enough signatures to get the question on the November ballot. After the legislature voted for it in 2009, a referendum took it away. The margin was narrow, however (six points), leading to speculation that this year gay marriage may be reinstated. We would then join the rest of New England.

And we could be the first state to approve gay marriage by popular vote. A few days after the announcement that same-sex marriage will again be on the ballot, the Catholic church in Maine unveiled a new ministry, Courage, for those who want to change their sexual orientation.

The priest who heads Courage has no training in therapy and will offer only spiritual counseling.

This separation of spirituality from the body is tragically misguided. A person unsure of or troubled by his or her sexual orientation needs a therapist, preferably one well trained in human sexuality. Courage will have no more credibility than a doctor who claims to cure cancer by snake bites.

The argument sometimes heard that marriage is thousands of years old is simply not true. Until recent centuries it was a property arrangement. Marriage in its present form, with many divorces, babies from fertility treatments and levels of domestic violence that seem to increase with recessions, cannot claim the mantle of history.

Arguments against same-sex marriage usually come from authority (it is wrong because we say so) rather than from evidence. If authorities ruled that red-haired people could not marry each other, or left-handed people should not be allowed to marry, the weakness of their stance would

be obvious.

Those who favor evidence may not know that as long ago as the last decade of the nineteenth century, German doctors and sexologists concluded that no evidence justified discrimination against homosexuals. They formed the Scientific Humanitarian Committee to argue for decriminalization.

The U.S. did not catch up to the Germans until 1973, when the American Psychiatric Association declared that homosexuality was not an illness. Teaching that homosexual people are intrinsically disordered, the Vatican has obviously not caught up to the APA.

People whose moral beliefs conflict with science are of course free to express those beliefs and attempt to persuade others that same-sex marriage is wrong. When they attempt to coerce others into accepting their morality, however, by overthrowing a law passed in a secular state, they show their distrust of persuasion.

In a ringing defense of freedom of the press, John Milton wrote, “Let truth and falsehood grapple.” His belief in the power of free expression finds some support in the polls showing that a majority of Americans now favor same-sex marriage. Five years ago, a majority did not.

The coming contest in Maine will feature an unusual alliance seen in 2009 — Catholics and fundamentalist Protestants on the same side. Not so many decades ago, fundamentalist Protestants were no fans of Catholics.

When one knocked on our door years ago, my mother tried to get rid of him by saying that our family was Catholic. His reply, “Catholics need more help than anyone else.” Now, ironically, the leader of Maine Catholics, Bishop Malone, will need a great deal of help from fundamentalists.

In 2009, the bishop also got thousands of dollars from other Catholic bishops across the country to defeat gay marriage. How many homeless shelters and food pantries would that money have created?

Bishops who oppose same-sex marriage deny they are bigots. Nobody wants that label. But why should their “subjective moral values” be imposed on all Mainers? “Let truth and falsehood grapple” is not their motto.

Gay marriage will become law, if not this year, then another year. Many people under the age of 30 not only favor it, they are baffled that it is even an issue.

Many issues today call out for guidance from religious leaders — the plight of immigrants, the gulf between rich and poor and threats to the survival of the species. Ignoring these problems in favor of political campaigns to deny certain citizens the privileges enjoyed by other citizens is a waste of resources for a lost cause.

Margaret Cruikshank is a writer who lives in Corea. She recently retired from the University of Maine.

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