Friday 18 May 2012

Same Sex Marriage - A Turning Point

The Man Of The Moment: President Barack Obama's public affirmation of same-sex marriage, like LBJ's famous 1965 civil rights speech to Congress in which he pledged "We shall overcome.", marks an important turning point in the quest for full civil equality for all Americans.

HE WASN’T ALWAYS A GOOD MAN, in fact Lyndon Baines Johnson was very often a bad man. He was from Texas, of course, which explains a lot. In Texas’s primary elections, which were the only electoral contests that really mattered in the “one party” states of the Democratic South, political bosses would ask their candidates: “Do you want us to vote ‘em, or count ‘em?” By this they meant: do you want us to bring in actual people to pad your vote; or do you want us to stuff the ballot boxes? LBJ won the 1948 Democratic Party primary for the US Senate by “counting ‘em”. He never looked back.

But if LBJ was a byword for the sort of “dirty deals done dirt cheap” that made the US Senate such an august example of republican virtue, he did have one truly great redeeming feature: he loved the poor. And in the United States of America, and most especially in the southern states of the old Confederacy, that meant loving black people. Not enough, it is true, to seat the integrated “Mississippi Freedom” delegation at the Democratic Party’s National Convention of 1964. But enough to put his Presidential signature on the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

To be fair, he did more than simply sign the crucial piece of legislation giving teeth to the Civil Rights Act of the previous year. President Johnson came to Congress on 15 March 1965 (just one week after a murderous attack on civil rights marchers in Selma, Alabama) and delivered what was, arguably, the greatest speech of his life.

"We Shall Overcome." On 15 March 1965, just one week after civil rights marchers were attacked by state troopers in Selma, Alabama, President Lyndon Johnson placed the full weight of the executive branch of the US federal government behind the Voting Rights Act.

“I speak tonight for the dignity of man, and the destiny of democracy”, he told the assembled representatives and senators. Speaking to America’s purpose: to the promise of freedom and equality that gave it birth; and to the dignity that is the birthright of every American citizen; LBJ said:

“This dignity cannot be found in man’s possessions. It cannot be found in his power or in his position. It really rests on his right to be treated as a man equal in opportunity to all others. It says that he shall share in freedom, he shall choose his leaders, educate his children, provide for his family according to his ability and his merits as a human being.”

The President brought his address to a close with the words that only a week before, as the dogs and the state troopers were unleashed upon them, the Selma marchers had sung to the world. Openly supporting the demonstrators, LBJ declared:

“Their cause must be our cause too, because it is not just Negroes but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome.”

Crippling Legacy: State troopers assault civil rights marchers in Selma, Alabama.

Last week the world heard another American president speak out for civil rights. Barack Obama told his fellow citizens that: “It is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

How fitting it is that this president offered that affirmation. Because there are still many Americans (some of them in his own party) who refuse to see the question of who can marry whom as anything more than a trivial, second-order issue, and a political diversion. They forget that when Barack Obama’s own mother was born there were still places in the United States where not only marriage, but even sexual intercourse, between a black man and a white woman could land them in jail – or worse. The union between President Obama’s white mother and his black, Kenyan, father, in many American states would have seen outraged Klansmen reaching for their robes, and their ropes.

Presidents are not saints, but neither are they wholly sinners. Light and dark may have been blended in LBJ’s soul to an unsettling degree, but that 1965 pledge to Congress: “We shall overcome”; was a vital step towards the full emancipation of Black Americans.

The question of “Who can marry whom?” is not a trivial, second-order issue. It’s about human dignity and human rights.

There are occasions, said President Johnson, when “history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man’s unending search for freedom.”

President Obama’s affirmation of same sex marriage tells us: that time is now.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 18 May 2012.


Anonymous said...

The difference is that LBJ was asking for blacks to be equals within the – at the time – thriving and important institution of democracy.

Obama is asking for gays to be equals with regard to the dying, fractured and increasingly irrelevant institution of marriage.

That seems sufficient reason for not caring over much about gay marriage, even if you, like me, do support it.

TB Ooi 黃定茂 said...

Did anyone ask the children, however they are procured, of same-sex marriages, if they mind not having a real father or mother? What about the rights of the children to a "normal family" with both father and mother and the uniqueness such a union of the opposites provides? How do such children grow up, develop and strive without the healthy influence of parents of different gender? What about the children's children, if they should think them necessary? In demanding for the rights of a social group, we must ensure that the rights of the others are not deprived or compromised. It is all right to sympathize with the plight of LGBTs, but in granting them equal status we are promoting a trend which will eventually bring the demise of the institutions of marriage and family and no one will gain from this. And this has nothing to do with religious beliefs.

Anonymous said...

To equate President Obama's push for gay marriage with the great racial civil rights struggle is false. A majority of individual states have responded to their inhabitants moral instincts and banned it. Obama's only hope is to get it in front of the Supreme Court and make it a Constitutional issue. In the meantime he picks up money from the liberal/gay bloc.
He wins either way.
But what he loses is a large sector of the Hispanic and Black voters who appear to be guided by scriptural principles and a basic instinct. They know what is natural and what is not.
He lost my respect a long time ago.
A great majority are ashamed of their president and ashamed of America for considering the issue to be valid.
It's nothing more than a fashionable idea drifting by in the current that proves a convenient distraction to the enormous problems that are a real and present danger.


guerilla surgeon said...

"It is all right to sympathize with the plight of LGBTs, but in granting them equal status we are promoting a trend which will eventually bring the demise of the institutions of marriage and family and no one will gain from this."
Heterosexuals are contributing far more to the demise of marriage IMO. And I think there's quite a bit of research that shows children do OK with gay parents. Now if only the fundies would leave 'em alone.

guerilla surgeon said...

"But what he loses is a large sector of the Hispanic and Black voters who appear to be guided by scriptural principles and a basic instinct. "

From what research I've seen it won't make a heap of difference. And everything people do is 'natural' - how could it be anything else. Yes and animals do it too.

barry said...

There is a group in Norway (I think - scandinavia somewhere) who want to remo0ve any limits on who one can marry. ie: If they have there way you can marry your brother,sister,mother,father.
The only reason why there are limits at the moment is that breading too close produces idiot children.
But this groups arguement is that we have contraception and anyway under the law if you cohabitate for long enough then the state regards you as married.

And then in India its already sort of legal to marry your dog - maybe that will become the next 'demand' from some group.

We all might reagrd these possibilities just as crazy an idea as our parents or grand parents regarded that crazy thought that homosexuals would marry.

To me marriage is for the purpose of the continuance of the human race. If we were all gay - that would pretty much be the end.

Already we hear the call here in NZ for more Govt (taxpayer) money for the provision of special resources for older gay people in retirement villages. They dont have families to support them and help them so they are wanting extra input to replace the resources one has in a regular family. I heard one on the radio saying that they are disadvantaged in old age because they are gay - as though it was a desease - thats exactly what she sounded like.

Persanally I think gay people are a drain on society compared to 'normal' people. Especially as they get old they all become a bigger drain on everyone else than does they average citizen.

As long as everyone is happy with where this sort of thing will lead (ie marry anyone you like - or anything you like) then thats fine - but I am certainly not.

Anonymous said...

"And I think there's quite a bit of research that shows children do OK with gay parents. Now if only the fundies would leave 'em alone."
Don't you think we should at least accord them the right to make a choice, since everyone is talking about rights? As to "everything people do is natural - how could it be anything else. Yes and animals do it too", would you condone crime, racism, bestiality, incest....? Animals don't do these, by the way. Only a minority of people do. Someday some may demand the rights to do other things; if we legalise same sex marriage now, where do we draw the line?

Anonymous said...

It seems that this issue has yet again brought the kick-down-the-doors-of-consenting-adults god bothering crowd, some of whom, as shown here, are comparing homosexuality with incest and bestiality. I presume that they are still smarting from the HLRA of 1986.

To me, same sex marriage is a no brainer. If 2 consenting adults want to formalise a romantic and intamite commitment to each other, then the state should not have any power to stop them. Plain and simple. None of anyone elses business. Frankly the desire the shoehorn everyone into a 1950's idealised family unit of mum, dad, 2 kids, a dog and a white picket fence is a form of social engineering in itself, and overlooks the misery of people who have had to endure mental, physican and emotional abuse as part of that arrangement. One only needs to go to a women's refuge safe house to view the terrible downside of imposing one 'right' view of family on a population with different needs, wants and desires.

Family values are about love, commitment and respect. You cannot get that with people who read a 2000 year old fairy tale wanting to dictate who can and cant get married, have kids, have sex, etc.


Victor said...

As an old codger, I might feel uncomfortable about the notion of Gay marriage. But I really can't fault it, in terms of logic or reason.

The institution of civil unions, for both homosexual and heterosexual couples, is , however, another matter.

If you're not prepared to marry your partner, it's surely for one of the two following reasons:

Firstly, you may not wish for any encumbrance on your freedom to move in or out of relationships.

Or, secondly, you may not wish the state to be a party to your relationship (the traditional Anarchist position).

Both of these are perfectly respectable viewpoints. However, in the first case, there's no reason for the law to allow you the same status and protections as it allows those intent on a long-term union.

In the second case, you should not wish the law to define your status, as this would surely fly in the face of the logic of your position.

Some would argue that civil unions are necessary because we need a secular alternative to the religious institution of marriage.

But civil marriage has been possible in much of the English-speaking world for around a century and a half and for a mite longer in the Francophone world.

So there really was no need for us to introduce a further form of non-religious union.

Does this matter? Yes, because the state has no business encouraging muddled thinking.

And now I'll wait for the flack to fly!

Meanwhile, Chris, I agree with you entirely about the ambiguities of LBJ's career. Both good and evil were etched very large in his person and in his presidency. Indeed, his career had almost a touch of Shakespearean tragic grandeur to it.

I remain of the opinion that, were it not for the Vietnam War, Johnson would now be remembered as amongst the greatest of US leaders.

But, alas, Vietnam did happen, and with it the needless loss of millions of innocent lives. Johnson may not have started the conflict but he escalated it mightilly and much (though by no means all) of the guilt can be lain at his door.

guerilla surgeon said...

Sorry anonymous 10.25 it's complete bullshit. You need to come to terms with science. There is a list of animals which engage in homosexual activity on Wikipedia reason. I could give you references to scholarly journals if you wish?
I suspect that it's wishful thinking on your part though.
And if you take your first statement to its logical conclusion we should ask all children if they want to stay with whichever mother and father they happen to have. I suspect that most would be quite happy with gay parents rather than physically abusive ones, or simply desperately poor ones :-). We don't regard children below a certain age as being able to give informed consent anyway, so your argument is faintly ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

I remember you saying, Chris, that today's liberals will die in a ditch for gay marriage but they won't stand up for the democratic right for workers to organise and withdraw their labour.

Obama may well be preparing his death in that ditch.

Democratic society is about social compromise. Elevating a gay union to the status of a procreating natural heterosexual union offends hundreds of millions of religious believer who created the institution of marriage.

Civil unions are a kind and generous way to make sure that gay couples have their rights.

This is simply the result of an extreme push by gay lobbies to completely normalise homosexuality in the eyes of everyone. This isn't about rights.

What consenting adults do in private is entirely up to them. But a compulsory public glorification centred on something sacred to Christians, Jews and Muslims is asking for civil strife.

What President Obama is doing is throwing away potential support ,in the tens of millions, for vital social democratic reforms.

It may lose him the election. Is this issue worth putting in danger growth, jobs, peace and universal healthcare?

Fuck no.

Anonymous said...

Hi GS 4.09,

Children are unable to give informed consent and that is why we have laws to protect them. Pedophilia and sex with minors are criminal offences, with or without consent. Even animals have rights; try abusing them and the law will come down on you hard. Isn't it a bit hypocritical that we extend rights to certain animals but not to children or unborn fetuses? When we demand rights for ourselves, we must also be mindful of the rights of others, especially those who are unable to voice out for themselves. It is only fair and the only way it will work.

Victor said...

andrewmahon 1234

I agree that it would be unfortunate if those nice Obamas were ejected from the White House simply because the President has declared himself in favour of Gay marriage.

But most of the reports I've read from the US suggest that those alienated by the move were unlikely to vote for him anyhow.

In contrast, he seems to have reignited at least some of the enthusiasm of the campus crowd who played a significant role in his 2008 campaign.

Also, many (perhaps most) US Independents are social liberals and could be swayed by the move.

Frankly, I don't care greatly whether or not Gays can marry, Conversely, like you, I do care that the Obama administration has failed to seize "the fierce urgency of now" in reconstructing America's economy on humane and sustainable lines.

But, politically, I don't think this was such a dumb move.

guerilla surgeon said...

"To me marriage is for the purpose of the continuance of the human race."

No, procreation is for the purpose of the continuation of the human race. Marriage is not at all necessary.

Anonymous said...

I hope you're right.

Anonymous said...

I hope you're right. I'd just rather 'left' parties would energise workers over union and economic issues than energise students over 'moral' issues. There's something very wrong and lopsided in that.

Victor said...


I certainly wish Obama's administration had been more in the tradition of FDR, Harry Truman or even(just about)JFK.

But I suspect he's left it too late to win a large slice of 'blue collar' votes on blue collar issues, particularly if the necks inside those blue collars happen to be a palish white and culturally drawn to the 'Tea Party' et al.

That's not just a comment on the Obama administration's failure to move left. It's also a reflection of the fact that he's the incumbent and times are tough. And, of course, its a comment on America's culture wars.

Maybe next time, the Democrats will be in a better position to call in the blue collar vote. And maybe the policies of a second Obama administration will enable them to do so. At this distance, we can but hope.

But, this time round, Obama's big electoral challenges seem to me to be to ensure that Afro-Americans get out and vote again as they did in 2008 and to prevent the erosion of the Democrat's Hispanic support.

He also needs to appeal to the large number of middle class independents who are fiscally
centrist but socially liberal. The kids on campus are the children and younger siblings of this powerful group.

I doubt that many Afro-Americans will stay home over the Gay marriage issue, although a largish number of family-friendly Hispanics might.

Last time round, McCain received a majority of non-Hispanic white votes, as well as a majority of the votes of every white ethnicity, apart from Jewish Americans, who constitute less than 2% of the total.

I stress ethnicity because the ethnic map of the US is changing fast. A report on the BBC a few days back mentioned that Black, Hispanic and Asian-American births were now more numerous than those of non-Hispanic whites.

It will certainly be interesting to see how demographic change impact on US politics from hereon.

guerilla surgeon said...

Victor. Google 'war on women'.

Victor said...

Thanks Guerilla Surgeon