Wednesday, January 14, 2009

From the Rockbound Shores Of Maine...

I don't like just blogging about gay marriage. There are lots of other sexual-freedom-oriented issues out there to discuss, but I admit gay marriage is the one getting most of the press lately. It's the hot issue, so to speak.

Anyway, on to the good news.

For Immediate Release: 01/13/2009
Contact: Betsy Smith, Executive Director, (207) 939-7779

EqualityMaine Announces Bill for Civil Marriage Equality
At a State House press conference today, EqualityMaine and several coalition partners unveiled a bill that would extend civil marriage rights to same-sex couples in Maine.

The bill, titled "An Act to Prevent Discrimination in Civil Marriage and Affirm Religious Freedom," is sponsored by Sen. Dennis Damon (D-Hancock).

Even though the bill hasn't even been submitted to the Maine legislature yet, what makes this good news is the language that EqualityMaine is using.

"An Act To Prevent Discrimination In Civil Marriage and Affirm Religious Freedom."

The emphasis is mine. Rather than raise the issue of gay marriage as a matter of making a new right, EqualityMaine is raising it as an issue of correcting an old wrong. It's what linguists like George Lakoff call "framing the debate."

Simply put, (and Dr. Lakoff is much better at explaining all this than I would be, you really ought to read his books) half the battle in politics is the words and phrases that are used to describe the issues being discussed. For example, people who are in favor of Roe v. Wade don't call themselves "pro-abortion", they call themselves "pro-choice." Those who oppose Roe v. Wade aren't "anti-abortion" or even "anti-choice," they're "pro-life." Each side is attempting to make the debate not about abortion itself, but about choice versus life, and each side is likewise emphasizing the "pro" angle of their argument, conversely trying to "frame" the other side as being "anti" or negative in their position.

But I digress. Anyway, EqualityMaine seems to have gotten the hint that the debate about gay marriage needs to be framed as a civil right of which homosexuals have been deprived. Which I've been advocating for some time.

From EqualityMaine's website:

Why do you call it "marriage equality" instead of "gay marriage"?Because we're not talking about creating a separate institution called "gay marriage." We're talking about providing equal access to the existing institution of civil marriage.

They're also taking the right tack when it comes to the issue of religious objections to marriage equality.

How would marriage equality affect my church?
That’s entirely up to your church. Remember, the issue is civil marriage, not religious marriage ceremonies. Religious institutions are not required to perform civil marriages, and may set their own boundaries for marriage. Some faith leaders will not perform marriages for people who have been divorced, for example, or for people of different religions.

Marriage equality does not challenge the autonomy of religious institutions in any way. Advocates of marriage equality focus strictly on civil marriage, and leave decisions about religious marriage ceremonies to faith leaders

One of the great sleight-of-hand tricks the Holy Terrors are using on the subject of gay marriage (excuse me, Marriage Equality) is they're perpetuating the myth that in the U.S., the concept of marriage is inexorably tied to religious authority and what churches and scriptures and preachers believe is right and wrong.

Simply put, that's bullshit. Marriage is a civil institution. Marriages may be performed by members of the clergy, but it's not a requirement. For example, a justice of the peace may perform a marriage. Common law marriages exist in 11 U.S. states, which means that no ceremony is required at all, religious or otherwise. Certain religious groups may oppose elements of marriage and divorce, but they wouldn't necessarily hold sway when it came right down to the legal implications.

If two faithful married Catholics opted to get divorced, the Catholic Church might not be too happy about it, but the state wouldn't be obligated to abide by the Church's wishes and refuse to grant the divorce. By the same token, if a Catholic and a Jew opted to get married by a Justice of the Peace over the objections of both churches, those two crazy kids would be considered married by the state in which they lived.

I'll be closely following this one. I have high hopes.

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