Friday, February 09, 2007

Primal Forces

I’m reading Bill Scher’s Wait! Don’t Move to Canada! In his chapter on the culture wars, Scher writes about how Democrats should tackle the public’s paradoxical opinions regarding same-sex relationships. Mitigating any backlash is tactically important, Scher believes. But advocating incremental change compromises the principle that “a truly representative government cannot discriminate against some of its people …”


But it got me thinking about polls that show the public generally supports civil unions, but people become reticent when asked if they support gay marriage. Civil unions, fine. Gay marriage? Uh, we’re not so sure. Why?

It’s more than just moral or social discomfort with homosexuality. As it has for millennia, marriage means a man and woman taking each other as mates. Marriage is the culmination of the human courtship ritual. To suggest changing marriage – even in a well-intended effort to expand the concept to include same-sex couples – is threatening because it radically changes one of the basic relationships by which humans self-identify.

It’s primal. Not something so easily reasoned away or dismissed with a wave.

I’m reminded of an incident from the Baptist university I attended.

My professor in Russian history was explaining a schism that had threatened to tear apart the Russian Orthodox church. The controversy? Over which side of the altar the priest should read the gospels from.

He saw us looking at each other in disbelief.

“I know,” he said, shaking his head. “This doesn’t sound like such a big deal to you. But just imagine the reaction if somebody got up at the Southern Baptist Convention and suggested that we change the way we spell the Savior’s name to the way most of them pronounce it.”

He turned to the blackboard, grabbed a piece of chalk, and wrote in large letters:

J       E       E       Z       U       S

He slashed an underline below it and turned back to the class. We had already broken into laughter. The professor raised his eyebrows and shrugged his shoulders in a wry question.

He’d made his point.

Marriage, too, will not change so easily.

As Arthur Jensen said, “YOU have meddled with the primal forces of nature.”

Words mean something. A cat is not a dog because we call it Fido, or because it may be politically expedient to call it a dog. Marriage, no matter what we may want it to mean, is fixed through countless generations of history as meaning something other than a same-sex relationship. That's why the American people have less problem accepting a civil union than a gay marriage, which, whatever it is, isn't marriage as most people understand it.

That doesn't mean it shouldn't get a tax deduction or deserve inheritance rights.

This may take awhile. And new words to describe these relationships.

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