Friday, November 14, 2008

A Tale of Two Marriages

Since the passing of California's Proposition 8 to ban gay marriage, the discussion in Utah (and the rest of the country) has grown louder than ever. It's a dialogue that we should have engaged in so ferociously prior to the election.

Utah has been particularly hopping. The state is home to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose leadership encouraged its members across the country to donate more than $20 million to the Yes on Prop 8 cause. During the many conversations I've had over the past couple weeks, two marriages keep popping up in my head, and I wonder which one most people would prefer to exist in their neighborhood.

Next door, two people love each other dearly and decide to get married and spend their lives together in a caring relationship. There will be good times and bad times, and the couple hopes that they will make it through the tough parts and live a happy life together. Because this couple happens to consist of two men or two women, many consider this marriage an abomination and lobby to legally erase it from existence.

A few houses down the street, another relationship, this time heterosexual, plays out, but it veils a deep secret. The man is so ashamed of his homosexuality and so pressured by the bigotry facing homosexuals that he stays in the closet. To prove something to himself and others, he marries a woman whom he doubtlessly cares about, but the sexual desire isn't there, no matter how much he wants it to be. The woman does her best to ignore the signs that everything isn't right, and hides her unhappiness. They have some children and love them, but a nagging feeling haunts both husband and wife, because something is missing.

Unwilling to abandon his wife and unable to form a meaningful homosexual relationship, the man instead finds himself seeking meaningless, anonymous sex in public restrooms and highway rest stops. This goes on for some time, until one day an undercover police officer apprehends him in the act. Now his family is shattered, his children confused and ridiculed, his wife heartbroken, his career possibly ruined.

If he happens to be a public figure, like a church leader or a politician, then the embarrassment plays out in public. His traumatized and humiliated wife must stand beside him as he delivers a speech for a media circus press conferences.

And here's where I get a bit confused: Which of these scenarios is supposed to damage the sanctity of marriage?

The crux of anti-gay-marriage rhetoric is based on falsehoods. Some people who belong to faiths that oppose marriage equality tell us that if the government acknowledges gay marriage, that their religion must perform marriages that they don't believe in. The people who make these claims are at best misinformed and at worst spreading fear-mongering that they know to be lies.

I have a hard time believing that the people who engineer this messaging actually believe it. But it's stunning how successfully they distort the issue of religious rights to the opposite of the truth. No church would be forced to conduct weddings that it doesn't believe in. Hell, your religion could consider marriage to be the union of the two sides of an Oreo cookie, bonded by cream. No one forced the LDS church to allow blacks into the priesthood before the leadership decided to do so in 1978. That's what freedom of religion means. However, anti-gay legislation invalidates the practices of the many religions that do believe in marriage equality. I doubt Mormons would like it if California said, "You can get married in the temple, but don't expect us to acknowledge it!"

Prop 8 and other anti-gay legislation bring religion into secular law—exactly where it shouldn't be. No one can stop a religion from disliking a minority population's way of life—or the majority's way of life—even if that way of life in no way affects the religion or its members. But Prop 8 does strip homosexuals of their rights. And no matter how you feel about the homosexual lifestyle, it's something to consider before taking a stance on any law that deprives others of their rights.