A couple of weeks ago, I spent part of a Saturday at Portland’s Sidewalk Art Festival. I was there as a member of a team of political volunteers working to get people to “Take the Pledge” to vote No on the upcoming referendum to repeal Maine’s new law that allows same-sex marriage.
The morning began at campaign headquarters, and we volunteers were asked to introduce ourselves and say a little about what had motivated us to volunteer. When my turn came, I said something like this.
I am exactly what I appear to be: an aging, straight, white dude, pretty much conventional in every respect. I’m here because the folks on the other side of this have worked long and hard on me to explain how same-sex marriage hurts me, my state, my country, my religion and even my own 41-year marriage. The angrier and more frantic they become, the more I don’t believe them. So here I am.
We all expected that the Art Festival would draw a largely sympathetic crowd, and for the most part we were right. After and hour or so, however, I was approached by a woman who looked as if she might have a question for me.
When I said hello to her, she stuck her finger in my face and practically shouted, “You will burn in Hell for Your Evil!” She pronounced it ee-ville and drew out the word for emphasis.
Somehow, I had the presence of mind not to react at all for a moment. Then I smiled at her and said in the most pleasant voice I could muster, “We’re going to have to disagree about that. Now, you have a wonderful day.” Then I turned away from her and wouldn’t talk to her anymore. I didn’t appreciate being threatened with Hell for following the dictates of my conscience.
The debate, of course, becomes increasingly shrill. Actually, it mostly stopped being a debate long ago. Well-funded groups that claim to be “conservative” have fought same-sex marriage all over the country. The arguments they raise are mostly emotional rather than logical and echo the campaign, a few decades ago, to preserve laws banning interracial marriage.
Then, as now, those seeking to deny marriage relied on a mostly unspoken “yuck” factor. In the case of interracial marriage, the term used was “miscegenation,” a word that contains the notion of mixing different species! The appeal was to the immoral, irrational, inaccurate and downright stupid idea that people of color are somehow subhuman–a different species from white folks. You wouldn’t allow people to marry dogs and have sex with them, would you? Yuck!
The “yuck” factor in the current conflict is even more blatant. Again and again, our attention is directed to the nature of homosexual acts. This must be to stir up the homophobia that is still rampant in our society. Do you know what homosexuals DO? You want to allow people to call that MARRIAGE? Yuck!
To my knowledge, however, voyeuristic prissiness has nothing to do with either genuine conservatism or any religion worthy of respect. What consenting adults of any orientation do in the bedroom is nobody else’s business.
In the past, marriage was about preserving and controlling money, property and power. Somewhere along the line, people began to recognize the legitimacy of love as a basis for marriage.
In our time, we are finally asked to consider the implications of marriage for love. On what basis do we decide who has the “right” to fall in love with whom? Should we really let the “yuck” factor make that decision for us? If love really is a good reason to get married, then isn’t the “yuck” factor on the wrong side of history as well as morality and common sense?
But I’m not a religious scholar, so maybe the “yuck” factor people really do have a lock on Heaven. If so, I probably wouldn’t have a good time there, away from all my friends. Mark Twain’s thought about this comes to mind: “Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company.”