Friday, April 13, 2007

Oregon Advancing, In a Daze

The good-hearted, but befuddled editorial board of Oregon's capitol newspaper reveal much about the current angst over same-sex marriage. The Salem Statesman-Journal's lead editorial on related bills there is a sad commentary on how clouded emotions impede social progress.

Even though the piece leads and concludes with same-sex-friendly exhortations, the convoluted and unnecessary illogic in the middle offers insight. Anywhere people are torn over marriage equality, they must fret over some of the same thoughts.

I urge them to get over it and get beyond it. That's easy for me to say. I'm on the other side. Also, I live where benign and healthy-for-society same-sex marriages abound. Meanwhile, the best I can do is comment a bit and wish them speedy clarity.

Just the Facts, Ma'am

The bills that the editorial, in its mush-mouthed way, supports are:
  • Senate Bill 2. With exemptions, this band discrimination on sexual orientation in jobs, housing and pubic accommodations. Religious organizations can still refuse to hire homosexuals and homeowners can refuse to rent spare bedrooms to them.
  • House Bill 2007. This creates domestic partnerships for same-sex couples. It provides some legal rights to registered couples, including separate-but-equal versions of inheritance, hosptial visitation, health coverage and child custody.
Those are fairly gutless and laggard. They are very similar to Maine's laws passed in recent years.

One Toe at a Time

It is ironic that in the eighth year of this century, and from a state with a long progressive history, the political newspaper of record would be so divided and timorous. The editorial reflects its subhead -- Morality can be debated, but legality has clearer focus.

After writing that discrimination in employment, housing and medical decisions is wrong, they add:
However, many Oregonians are uncomfortable with homosexuality, and they certainly don't want it given the same status as traditional marriage. That was evident in voters' 2004 passage of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage -- even as many Oregonians said they could accept civil unions as a compromise.

Good people, of deep religious conviction and moral certitude, can be found on either side of these issues. No matter what the Oregon Legislature does or doesn't do on these matters, it cannot please everyone. Oregon, including the Statesman Journal Editorial Board, remains divided.
Here we have the odor of what we smell in Massachusetts with the current drive to stop SSM. They can say, strongly, that discrimination against homosexuals is wrong on one hand. On the other, they would legislate their private religion.

House Bill 2007 acknowledges that their equivalent of civil unions is a civil contract. Those who waffle or demur on SSM do not want to accept that legally marriage is too. No state requires a religious ceremony. In most states, the majority of marriages are conducted by government officials and agents, such as justices of the peace or town clerks.

More to the point, ministers and other clerics are veneers on the marriage furniture. They were allowed to solemnize marriages, the state-sanctioned and binding civil contract, as add-ons. The state gives a couple permission to marry, in the form of the license. It records the contract with an authorized solemnizer's signature. If a legal separation or divorce becomes necessary, the state allows that or not and records it.

We can pause, very briefly, to consider those who insist on saying that they are married in the eyes of their God, their cleric and their religious community. That's nice for them and may be emotionally soothing. Such heart-based thinking is fine over drinks or in bed, but does not belong in the legislature or courtroom.

Unfortunately, this often gets in the way of legal and rights issues. Legally, marriage is not any church's ritual, rather a civil contract enforced by the state. The key question is not whether a particular religious leader approves of this or that law. Rather, ask whether homosexuals deserve full civil rights and protection from discrimination. The question is not what your preacher says but whom the state allows to get a marriage license.

Another Canard

The paper's editorial notes that both parties in both houses support the bills. It urges passage and says they are common sense. Yet it includes:
Two proposals in the Legislature represent a centrist, Oregon-style approach. Senate Bill 2 and House Bill 2007 would provide basic rights for homosexuals without harming the rights of heterosexuals.
That makes an image pop up, of a board table populated by Abe Simpson characters. "By cracky, I remember when..."

Here on the other coast, we likewise hear VoteOnMarriage folk and their buddies saying much the same. They aver some unprovable, unmeasurable, unspecified damage to their own civil contracts that make them legally married, if same-sex couple were to have that right and the legal benefits that come with it.

We can assume schadenfreude on the part of those who want to hold down some other group for no good reason. However, to allege that there is only enough marriage to go around for the straights, that giving this civil right to same-sex couples somehow ruins their own marriages is pathetic indeed.

This month, I have been married 31 years. I have solemnized two marriages of long-term friends, one different-sex and one same-sex. My marriage is unquestionably confirmed and strengthened by joining those couples. Society is stronger for their unions. They personally benefit.

We can hope that after the Abe Simpsons on the Statesman-Journal editorial board chill after these tepid measures become law. Even we old folk can change for the better.

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