Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Prop 8 Decision: Homphobia on Trial, Engaging Irrational "Arguments on Which It Rests (2)

Yesterday I noted that I want to continue my discussion of the primary irrational “arguments” (I call them hunches or cultural suspicions that don’t rise to the level of rational argumentation) that, in my view, bolster the case of those who resist same-sex civil marriage in the U.S.  My goal here is not so much to analyze the two suspicions on which I’m focusing, as it is to note how they were placed on trial in the prop 8 case.  And how they lost.

They lost because they cannot claim, ultimately, to be based in rationality.  Because they do not have a rational basis.  To be precise: they lost because they are hunches and suspicions that have everything to do with continuing discrimination against LGBT people, and not with rational analysis of prejudice, discrimination, or issues of sexual orientation and gender.

I also want to emphasize as a preface to what follows that opposition to same-sex marriage is about far more than marriage.  What is at stake in this cultural discussion—what really drives those intent on removing or foreclosing the right of civil marriage for gay couples—is the intent to keep gay persons second-class citizens in our society.  At its heart, the movement to oppose same-sex marriage is about keeping alive legal barriers that enact and reinforce irrational cultural suspicions about the deleterious effects we may expect, if gay human beings are treated as human beings with the same level of humanity everyone else has, and the same rights and privileges accorded to other citizens.  Accorded to them, our foundational documents insist, because they are human beings deserving of human rights.

Yesterday’s posting on these topics noted that, in my view, the most significant argument now being advanced to halt social movements to accord full humanity and full human rights to gay and lesbian persons around the world is the gender-complementarity argument.  Though this “argument” originates with a peculiar, quasi-mystical, gender-accentuated version of traditional Catholic natural-law theology that the former pope John Paul II developed—he called it the theology of the body—it is now omnipresent in the discourse of many evangelical Christians opposed to full inclusion of gay persons in our society.  It has entered the discourse world of the economically influential Mormon community, whose money undergirded the removal of the right of civil marriage from gay couples in California (and whose theology of marriage is far from “traditional,” in Catholic terms).  And it is constantly being shopped around in the mainstream media these days by powerful neocon media spokespersons now, some of whom claim to represent “the” Catholic position on the issue of homosexuality.

The gender-complementarity suspicion about what will happen if we include LGBT persons in our society as full human beings is, in other words, strong at present, due to the collusion of influential religious bodies in crafting and promoting a dominant narrative about this suspicion.  And it receives disproportionate attention in the media due to the economic, political, and social power of those promoting the narrative.  It will continue to proliferate in mainstream media memes as a result.

And so it deserves critical attention on the part of those intent on achieving full human rights and full social inclusion for LGBT persons.  In particular, it deserves strong critical attention in the wake of Judge Walker’s prop 8 ruling, which explicitly challenges this cultural suspicion about the corrupting role gay citizens play in the body politic to bring its warrants for continued prejudice to the table, and allow them to be examined in the light of day—in the court system of our pluralistic secular democracy.

And there’s the point with which I want to begin my analysis of the gender-complementarity argument here.  I’ve written at length elsewhere on this blog about the (unsound and very shaky) theological basis of the theology of the body and its gender-complementarity “argument.”  Anyone who wants to follow that discussion in my previous postings can simply click on the tags “male-female complementarity” or “theology of the body.”

As my previous postings have noted, many theologians find Pope John Paul II’s novel interpretation of traditional Catholic natural-law theology, the theology of the body, weak for a variety of theological reasons.  In the first place, it appears to hinge everything in scripture and tradition on the biological fact of gender, and on gender roles that John Paul II insists are grounded in this biological fact.

And yet—as a theological imperative for Jews and Christians, as a biological dictate that should norm our moral behavior and moral thinking—gender is not at all central to the Jewish and Christian scriptures.  The question of being and remaining male and female and upholding gender roles based on those biological designations is hardly the central moral imperative of the scriptures, as these documents examine what it means to respond to God’s will in our daily lives.  

The prophetic tradition of Judaism, which focuses instead on acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God (Micah 6:8), explicitly lifts up barren women who were scorned by some strands of Jewish thought.  It also overturns traditional taboos against eunuchs, who were considered defective and therefore to be excluded from ritual worship (Deuteronomy 23:1).  

Isaiah (56:3-5) reverses the Pentateuch’s prohibition against including eunuchs in temple worship by stating that eunuchs who keep the Sabbath will have a memorial in the temple better than sons or daughters.  The prophetic tradition challenges the Jewish community to regard these gender-transgressive and marginalized groups of human beings as outcasts similar to widows, orphans, or foreigners, who deserve particular attention on the part of the people of God, who are obliged to lift their oppression and include them in the social and religious life of Judaism.   

And the Christian scriptures are, if anything, actually hostile to the notion of family which (in its current middle-class incarnation) now forms the idolatrous center of so much Christian discourse and Christian thought.  They subordinate family to the reign of God, and challenge disciples of Jesus to put the reign of God first even if that means sacrificing one’s ties to family.

Jesus himself was, the four canonical gospels suggest, unmarried.  A dominant strand of Pauline thought is that those baptized into Christ are made a new creation, and are not bound by the dictates that govern life in the “old” creation out of which they have been called to form the new Christian family—that is, the “old” creation that forms the heart of John Paul II’s theology of the body, which takes its cue from the Genesis creation narratives and makes those narratives, with their biological separation of male from female, fundamental to the whole canon of scripture.  

In Galatians (3:28), Paul specifies that, in Christ, there is neither male nor female, but the genders are made one in Christ.  A difference that we now want to regard as all-important for the Christian moral life is, Paul proclaims, abolished, made null and void, in Christ.

Given the weight of scripture and tradition, the burden of theological proof is on those who want to make the biological fact of gender—with the gender roles that are supposedly inherent in this fact, in the theology of the body—the central point of scripture and tradition, the central imperative, as it were, of Christian life: the imperative to safeguard the boundaries between man and woman and assure that men and women are neatly separated into mutually exclusive, hermetically sealed categories, each with its place in the world and its role in the scheme of salvation.

This is ultimately what the theology of the body is all about—separating men and women, noticing the difference between them as the most salient fact about these two categories of human beings, and assuring that neither muddles the boundary that isolates one gender from the other.  The theology of the body is, in the final analysis, all about assuring that the roles traditionally assigned to either gender—on the basis of supposed biological imperatives—remain relatively intact, in a world in which everything else appears up for grabs.

It is, as I noted in a recent posting , most of all about assuring that men remain men: that men remain on top and women remain on bottom.  That male power and privilege remain unchallenged, bolstered by religious warrants, elevated to the position of central, unquestionable dogma within the Christian tradition.  That women and men regarded as quasi-women (i.e., gay men) remain in their subordinate places in relation to heterosexual men.

And it is these quasi-theological hunches and suspicions that came to trial in the prop 8 trial.  And were found lacking.  They were found lacking because their rational basis could not (and cannot) be clearly demonstrated in the secular forum of the courts.  The theology of the body with its hunch that male-female complementarity is the most essential cultural symbol of all, if we wish to maintain social coherence, rests on hunches and suspicions about what will happen if we fully include LGBT persons in church and society that have no sound rational basis and which cannot be proven rationally.

Its central assertion is that if we permit same-sex couples the right of civil marriage, everything else in the world will fall apart.  Heterosexual marriage will be endangered.  Men will no longer be men.  Women will no longer be women.  Because society is founded upon the institution of marriage, society itself will fall apart.  Procreation will cease. Religious marriage will lose its meaning because civil marriage can no longer be controlled by the moral dictates of religious bodies.  

Children will be susceptible to privation and abuse.  Same-sex marriage is a dangerous social experiment that will expose children to harm.  It’s all for and all about the children!

This congeries of suspicions failed to make its case in the prop 8 trial.  It did so because there is no strong evidence at all for its argument about what will happen if same-sex couples are permitted the right to marry civilly—and to receive all the rights and privileges attendant on the institution of marriage in our society.
To an increasing number of careful observers, the suspicion promoted by religious bodies (and their powerful neoconservative political proponents) today—the suspicion that Things Will Fall Apart if gays are finally treated as full human beings—is strongly counterintuitive.  It is counterintuitive because it has already been disproven.  An increasing number of nations and a number of states in the U.S. now permit gay couples to marry civilly.

And things have not fallen apart.  Men remain men in those societies, and women remain women.  Procreation has not ceased in these nations or states.  People continue to marry heterosexually in areas that permit civil marriage for gay couples.  Children are not harmed by the full inclusion of LGBT persons in church and society or by the opening of civil marriage to same-sex couples.  To the contrary, children with same-sex parents are protected from harm they now experience, in the absence of legal recognition of their parents’ marital unions.  

There is no causative connection at all between any perceived decline in the stability of the institution of heterosexual marriage and gay persons or gay rights.  Heterosexuals appear to be doing quite well at fraying the institution of heterosexual marriage on their own, thank you very much, without any assistance from their gay brothers and sisters.

Ultimately, those promoting the theology of the body “argument” to keep the full gamut of human rights at bay for LGBT persons are asking for a privilege that cannot be accorded religious groups, under the Constitution: this is the privilege of dictating, on religious grounds , what may or may not happen to the institution of civil marriage.  And because the demand these groups are making to continue enjoying that privilege is not grounded in any rational argument at all, or can point to no credible evidence at all for making this peculiar arrangement in a secular democracy that separates church and state, the gender-complementarity “argument” lost its case in the prop 8 trial.

No argument against unreality is more persuasive than reality itself.  In the case of same-sex marriage, there is a growing, undeniably compelling body of evidence from nations around the world (and a number of states) that the arguments advanced against same-sex marriage by various religious and political groups in the U.S. do not hold water.

But to note this is by no means to say that these “arguments” are going to go away anytime soon.  If anything, their irrational claims are going to be increasingly heard in American culture, with ever more shrill predictions about what will happen once gay and lesbian people stop being treated as subhuman second-class citizens.

Look for stepped-up, always less logic-driven assertions about these matters, in particular, from those who have anointed themselves “the” spokespersons of Catholicism in the days to come.  Because the theology of the body emanates from the Catholic church, the Catholic church now finds itself in the unfortunate position of being the primary religious purveyor of anti-gay prejudice in American society.  The primary religious purveyor of unashamed prejudice, despite Catholicism’s long and admirable tradition of teaching about human rights and our obligation to those living on the social margins . . . .

In the wake of Judge Walker’s ruling, a number of Catholic pastoral leaders have already made colossally stupid, highly prejudiced remarks about what will happen in our society if the ban on gay marriage is removed.  I expect remarks of this ilk to continue and to become more common (and crazier and meaner) in days to come, as the Catholic position on gay people and their human rights continues to harden, and as the Catholic church continues its retreat to the countercultural ghetto position that the current pope Benedict XVI has crafted for the church with his rhetoric about a smaller and purer church.

Nor is the battle confined to the U.S.: the colossally stupid, highly prejudiced remarks are pouring out of the mouths of Catholic pastoral leaders in other places, as well, these days, as gay human beings enter the stage of human history as fully human persons.  Recently, Cardinal Juan Sandoval Iniguez, archbishop of Guadalajara, stated that same-sex unions are “an aberration” and asked the faithful, "Would you want to be adopted by a pair of faggots or lesbians?"

As Timothy Kincaid reports at Box Turtle Bulletin, Cardinal Sandoval also stated that gay marriage is a more serious social problem than drug trafficking and accused mayor Mayor Marcelo Ebrard of Mexico City of bribing the Mexican legislature to accept same-sex marriage.  SDP Noticias confirms (and here) that the phrase Cardinal Sandoval used to describe gay male couples was precisely “una pareja de maricónes.”  As the Urban Dictionary website notes, maricón is a

[d]erogatory term; crude word for a gay man used by straight men and women to insult gay men or to question the masculinity of straight men. Comparable to faggot.

Would you want to be adopted by a pair of faggots?  This from a prince of the Roman Catholic church.  This from a disciple of Jesus.  

Look for more of this kind of hate speech to pour more boldly forth now from the mouths of those who want to hinge everything in our world and our religious traditions on the right of heterosexual males to dominate the world, as gay and lesbian persons claim the right to be treated as full human beings in societies around the world.  When irrationality is tested in court and proven to be nothing but irrationality, this kind of ugly, taunting assertion is all that it has left.