Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Empathize this

I've got two things on my mind today.

First off, I really like Sonja Sotomayor. And I especially like that when discussing his selection criteria for Justice Souter's replacement, President Obama brought up empathy.

Empathy is not the same thing as sympathy, compassion or emotion. Empathy is perspective. The idea that our laws have strict, specific definitions that should be considered without perspective is ridiculous. Laws mean something, but they must also be considered in context. That isn't to say they should be applied arbitrarily, or to advocate making exceptions left and right to suit a judge's whim...suggesting laws should be considered in context simply means that the courts must consider how our laws should be interpreted, and how they can make our society a better, more habitable, more functional one. How they can help Americans live their lives without impediment to their personal liberties. Empathy provides the perspective necessary to do this.

Judge Sotomayor is honest about her personal history and how it informs her perspective. We're kidding ourselves if we think that somehow strict constitutionalists are without bias. Everyone has a bias, and you're a fool if you trust someone who claims they don't. Godspeed, Judge Sotomayor.

Now, On to my second issue.

I have a thing or two to say about the Prop 8 decision. I'm pleased that the union of my dear CP and PG has remained intact. Back in October when we did this whole whirlwind wedding to beat the election, it seemed crazy that a week could make the difference in the legality of their marriage. Turns out it wasn't crazy at all.

So here's the thing. For the life of me, I just don't understand what the big problem is with same-sex marriages. I don't understand why two people of opposite gender in a partnership are more valid, more important and more deserving of privileges than two of the same gender. I don't understand why a relationship I have can be recognized as a valid union, but Tom and George's shouldn't be.

I've heard people say they oppose same-sex marriage because they don't like the idea of homosexuality. They say the idea of two men or two women together sexually is repugnant to them. For a second, let's just say their opinion of someone else's sex life is relevant and not just creepy. I didn't realize that the point of legal marriage was to validate or endorse the sex happening in the relationship. Does that mean that ugly people shouldn't be allowed to marry because someone might find their sex distasteful? Don't be ridiculous.

Others will say that God says homosexuality is a sin, so our government shouldn't recognize it. I'd ask them to show me exactly where God says this, but I know they'll drag out that Old Testament law and then we'll have to start banning polyester blends and shellfish and it will get us off track. Instead (separation of church and state aside,) I'll just ask....Really? Then I'll also assume you are for fining and jailing people who take the name of the Lord their God in vain, making it illegal to forget Mother's or Father's Day, or for punishing the people whose covetous behavior has put them into thousands of dollars in credit card debt, or who have taken out mortgages that they couldn't afford just because they really wanted a nice house like everyone else. I mean, these are actual commandments, people. If we're going to base our legal system and privileges on God's word, let's at least cover the Big Ten first.

Then there's the argument that keeping the definition of marriage limited to a man and a woman protects the family, the sanctity of marriage and makes our society a better place. I think what they're getting at is that marriages establish stable homes, encourage positive economic activity, build communities and connections, and create a nurturing atmosphere for both the children of a union and the parents who created it. I'll certainly agree that marriage does all of this. But I need some facts to prove that same-sex couples don't do this, too, because my experience of them indicates the opposite. (Do you also need me to cite divorce statistics and Britney Spears to debunk this myth? I didn't think so.)

As to the people who claim same-sex marriage opens the door to polygamy and bestial marriage, well, you're morons and I think you know it.

I understand that for a lot of people, homosexuality is foreign; it's not something they are entirely comfortable with, and until relatively recently they didn't even have to acknowledge it existed. I realize that this is difficult for them, and that before they decide if they agree with same-sex marriage, they'd like some time to just get used to knowing about the same-sex couples who've been living amongst them. I empathize with their struggle. In fact, I'll go so far as to say I sympathize with the trouble they're having getting used to this...I mean, I don't agree with them on this issue, but it does really suck when the world throws a set of rules at you that are completely different than your norm, and I know that they don't mean to be bigoted - they just want some time.

But here's the thing. Their discomfort with change is not a reason to withhold rights from other citizens so they can take their time getting used to things.

Legal marriage is about civil rights, plain and simple. Our government allows married couples to choose the most advantageous tax filing status, shorthands dozens of legal privileges that would take thousands of dollars and reams of paperwork to finalize without the marriage license, and bestows legitimization to the partnerships and families that couples form. To suggest that only some of our citizens should have access to these rights is pretty unfair. In fact, it's downright un-American. Even Iowa, a state full of traditional values and AARP memberships, gets this, and has done something tangible to change it. If they can do it, so can everyone else.

I mean, come on California. It's going to seem pretty ridiculous when the gay children of Los Angeles and San Francisco dream of the day that they're old enough to flee the small-mindedness of their childhood home for the more accepting, gay-friendly pastures of Des Moines.

Get with the program.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Go Melinda June. You say it so well, and I am proud of Iowa and hope Ohio will wake up.....

Bubs said...

Great post.

Coaster Punchman said...

Thank you for writing this. I know you were furious at the thought of your good work last October being undone by the courts, so at least we still have that. I'll call you tomorrow.

BadTux said...

It's the same mentality that, a generation earlier, had the union of a black and a white being illegal in the state of California. Gays are the new n***er for preachers, politicians, and other evil people to use to scare their congregations or followers into giving them more money, more power, more credit for having "saved" them from those "evil" n****ers err gays. I was born in the South during the segregation era and saw it well while I was growing up down there. File off the serial numbers, substitute "gay" for "ni**er", and you got the current situation.

- Badtux the Southern Penguin

Mnmom said...

Exactly. 100% agreed. Perfect.

Sonja said...

Back with a vengeance. Keep it coming.

Gifted Typist said...

Nicely said indeed.

BeckEye said...

I'm rising, doing the slow clap, and whistling furiously.

Alan said...

"As to the people who claim same-sex marriage opens the door to polygamy and bestial marriage, well, you're morons and I think you know it."Love it. Thank you Tom for the reference to here, and from what I've learned in this post alone, thank you Melinda June for the responsiveness that made a husband out of my friend's decade-long love. And thank you for being funny too.

God I hope we all get through this life with some vestige of sanity left to us that the world hasn't driven away by then.

Jacob's Mom said...

Atta girl!! You have the gifted common sense brain.

Why is it that, as a culture, we are more comfortable seeing two men holding guns than holding hands? ~Ernest Gaines

PG said...

The PG Hereby Decrees:

#1. Any persons who voted for proposition 8 shall no longer be allowed admission to a gay-owned or operated hair salon. May they live the remainder of their days with bad hair.

#2. Using the Bible to justify a sexual relationship is repugnant.

#3. Righteous hetero Christian procreation is repugnant.

#4. When I get to heaven I will be kicking out all the prop 8 voters anyway so they might as well give up on praying now and do something more productive with their time.

#5. Not only will I devote my love and life to the CP regardless of what they say, how they vote, what they think, and what they preach, I will continue to rock on!

#6. The Mindy is wise and should be listened to closely.

ShelbyB said...

Well said MJ, yet awful that you had to say it at all. I still can't believe the way they voted...

Cormac Brown said...

Well said, and...

"I mean, come on California. It's going to seem pretty ridiculous when the gay children of Los Angeles and San Francisco dream of the day that they're old enough to flee the small-mindedness of their childhood home for the more accepting, gay-friendly pastures of Des Moines."

...that hurts. It was the boonies and the people who let their priests/preachers/ministers do their thinking for them, that voted for Prop H8te, not the rest of us.

Dale said...

Why aren't you running the damned country again? Brilliant piece that hits every mark and more with intelligence and wit.

Anonymous said...

Wonderfully written -- perfect! Kim

Esther said...

That was perfect. Thank-you for saying everything I would say if I could have expressed it as well. I think some people don't understand or won't accept that their religious beliefs should not be enshrined into law and that our laws protect the rights of minorities, not the will of the majority.

Bramley Apple Pies! said...

Sorry to get in on the tail end of this lefty love-fest, but I take issue with your first paragraph.

While I agree that empathy, as you define, is an important feature in most occupations I do not want it in my Supreme Court judge. I want my judge to decide right and wrong based on the language of the law, as it was contemplated when written. I want my Judge to make that decision, even if it is hurtful or wrong.

Let our elected representatives make the laws, and let them revise or void them when the Supreme Court applies them as written.

I know the balls and strikes analogy is tired, but it is no less correct in my mind. Put the responsibility on our elected officials, who we can vote out, to write the laws. Let our judges apply them without empathy.