Bill Donahue and Lawful Bigotry

I don’t care much for Bill Donahue of the Catholic League. I find him a throwback, a kneejerk bigot who opens his mouth and everything I find insupportable about politicized religion comes out. That said, I also find him refreshing, in that he usually always says exactly what he means and does not equivocate in order make political points with tepid constituencies. For instance:

That last bit is what I find useful. He wants the law to discriminate against lifestyles with which he disagrees. He has a list. He tells it out with no frills, no conditional language, no soft-pedaling. Bravo, Mr. Donahue, and thank you. It is always best to know where you stand with your opponents.

He wants the law to discriminate not only against gay marriage, but against cohabitation, probably line marriage, multi-partner marriage, any variation on the good ol’ fashion way grandma and grandpa did that he thinks is disgusting.

To which I can only say, with deep sincerity: fuck you, Mr. Donahue. It’s not your call. These are not your lives to dictate to. This is not your choice to impose. We went through a cultural revolution—it was messy, a lot of it was stupid and ill-conceived, some of it was hurtful—to get out from under exactly that kind of puritanical myopia and take away the ability of the state or anyone else to exercise legal prejudice against people for being together in ways you look at and go “Ewww!” Fuck you. This is my life, my choice, not yours, not the state’s, no one’s. Mine. Ours.

He talks about the “gold standard” and starts citing the sociological data to back up the claim that children thrive with a traditional marriage. Here he is being a bit disingenuous. Children thrive in families predicated on such standards when several other conditions are also met, and which now social science is beginning to understand that it is those conditions that are more important than the particular arrangement of component parts. Children do not thrive in “broken” marriages, but neither do they thrive in dysfunctional marriages. It’s a simple question—which is better for a child, a “traditional” marriage in which daddy beats the shit out of mommy on a regular basis or that same child in a single parent home where it is loved, protected, and nurtured? And of course, it doesn’t even have to be that dramatic—indifference is destructive, though less measurable. Even if the preferred format is met and adhered to, if the love and nurture are withheld, is that not detrimental? It’s not one man one woman and voila the child grows up happy and well-adjusted!

He forgets that one of the most powerful mitigating factors in such equations is the community in which a marriage exists. If the community approves and grants its support, all may be well. If the community, for whatever reason, turns on that couple, they will suffer, their marriage will suffer, and the children will suffer. Intolerance is one of the strongest countervailing elements in the potential destruction of a family unit, and it doesn’t even have to be an “alternative” family to suffer it, just different.

No one should have to be reminded that it was not so long ago that it was illegal in this country for members of different races, specifically blacks and whites, to get married, even if they were of the requisite genders. Many such marriages that took place after it became legal failed because of external pressures—disapproval. There is no magic formula for a marriage.

One major ingredient, though—love. And it never ceases to amaze me how many self-professed christians seem to have no use for love that does not conform to their prejudices.

(Nor does it cease to amuse me how often I will hear apologists claim that “those aren’t real christians.” I know what they mean, but let us be honest here—real or not, the bigotry is taught in the name of the same faith. Where do they get it from? They will proudly tell you—the Bible. The tactics of exclusion fail to inoculate those who think themselves “true” christians from the taint of those who aren’t when both draw their lessons from the same well. Perhaps some interpret the lessons incorrectly, but the lesson is nevertheless there to be misinterpreted.)

But I am glad of Bill Donahue, because he does speak his mind. He is clear and unequivocal and I can point to his words and say “That is what I do not want in this country.” I don’t want to live that way. I do not live that way. We forget that America is supposed to be where you can live as you choose without fear at our peril.

But, yeah, Bill, the president did have to wriggle about this. Because there are a lot of people who think like you and lot more who sit the fence. Because people are concerned with how they might appear to their friends if they speak their hearts and a lot of people who will bully them into submission for “outrageous” opinions. Because public opinion is a fickle bitch and any politician who blithely ignores it does so at risk of career. The pragmatics of politics make liars of all of them, left or right, depending on the issue. But he’s done a bold and gutsy thing now and he may go down in flames for it. That and other things.

Marriage is two distinct things these days, in the West. It is a codification of a relationship based on traditions and community feelings. For many, it is a sacred act, between themselves and their god.

But it is also an economic arrangement, a complex comingling of estates and responsibilities made simple through the expedient conjoining of ritual and contract law. Whether people wish to admit it or not, these are separate things, and this second aspect is by far the more impactful because it determines how you will shape your future together within this community. There are combined over 1500 laws, both state and federal, defining rights, responsibilities, and benefits that accrue to marriage. It is very much a contract.

And while two people don’t have to indulge a “traditional” religious marriage in order to be legally married, churches do have to adhere to the law in order for their ceremonies to be legally binding. So let’s not kid ourselves about what’s going on here. Getting married is a gamble. Love is not always forever (nor, actually, do I think it ever was or should be in all instances) and yet we have to make our homes within a community of laws. Barring people from the protections of the law because they don’t meet a religious qualification is supposed to be wrong in this country.

Anyway, kudos to Mr. Obama. And again, thank you, Mr. Donahue—I like to know who I’m disagreeing with and exactly why.