Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Election '09 Recap

I had a bad feeling about yesterday, and it looks like my intuition was right (when folks start trumpeting a victory in a city ordinance measure in Kalmazoo, Michigan, that's a sign the night isn't going your way).

Obviously, the defeat of Maine's gay marriage law, again by a tantalizing close margin, is the biggest blow of the night. The cycle-to-cycle political jockeying -- a governor's seat here or a house seat there -- pales in comparison to a state's decision to strip a contingent of its citizens of equal rights and human dignity. Andrew Sullivan says to keep hope, and I have no doubt that this is a battle we will win in my lifetime. But I can't say it isn't frustrating when we keep falling right at the crest of the hill.

As for the political fallout from yesterday, I think the conventional wisdom pretty much has it. First and foremost, "an economic catastrophe is not a good time to be an incumbent elected official." Second, obviously, this is a good result for Republicans, flipping two governorships, if only because it shows that their brand is no longer entirely poisonous. Third, mediocre candidates lose elections (Deeds), unless their opponents are widely loathed incumbents (Corzine), in which case its a toss-up of which house voters want to see the pox fall harder on. Fourth, Republicans, it turns out, can't run psychopathic right-wingers in districts Obama won and expect to hold House seats.

The net upshot is this: objectively, little has changed -- Republicans netted two governorships, Democrats bagged a new House seat. Subjectively, Republicans are probably emerging from their nadir, but are going to have to grapple with the fallout from the NY-23 "purge the middle" decision which came close enough to working that it probably is going to cause quite a bit of consternation for the party. As for Democrats -- they're a gun shy bunch to begin with anyway, so last night's events probably won't help. But they need to wake up -- they've been sleepwalking this past year, and that just doesn't work in the political game.

12 comments:

PG said...

Considering how consistently voters have turned down proposals to end discrimination against LGBT folks (Washington State's still counting votes just for an expanded domestic partnership law), I think the Kalamazoo ordinance was pretty significant.

Rebecca said...

As a resident of New York, I think it's pretty significant when the Republicans manage to lose a seat in a safe district that has not elected a Democrat to Congress since 1871! I suspect that if Dede Scozzafava had remained in the race (and Hoffman had never showed up), she would have been elected.

Joe B. said...

We've come a long way when "equal rights and human dignity" includes "official normative approval of my sexual affiliations." That's progress.

PG said...

Joe B.,

I didn't realize "sexual affiliations" were the basis of marriage, or of non-discrimination law for that matter. I thought the non-discrimination law was about sexual orientation (which is defined narrowly as whether one is attracted to men, women or both, and has nothing to do with whether one has any "affiliations").

And I thought marriage under most states' current statutes (and federal law) had little to do with sex. Refusal to have sex with one's spouse, for example, is not even a basis for divorce in South Carolina and New York (the states that lack no-fault divorce). From what I see in the advice columns, the sex-less or nearly sex-less marriage is a commonplace in our society, and same-sex couples -- particularly those raising children -- don't seem to be a great exception.

Joe B. said...

Maine voters struck down a non-discrimination law? I thought it was a "same sex marriage" bill.

I think most SSM advocates and opponents would disagree with you about the role the sexual relationship plays in the institution of marriage as a whole. My understanding is that some large subset SSM advocates oppose normatively neutral (not truly neutral, since neutrality lacks sanction, but neutral in some sense) Anderson-style proposals to divorce civil benefits from the sexual aspect of marriage. Of course not every marriage involves actual sexual activity, but the natural and legal institution is organized around the presumption that the relationships are sexual.

Joe B. said...

I'm not being snarky about the Maine law at issue; I could quite possibly have misunderstood the topic here.

PG said...

Maine voters struck down a non-discrimination law? I thought it was a "same sex marriage" bill.

You didn't say that you were speaking only of the Maine law, and Kalamazoo ordinance that David mentioned is about non-discrimination.

I think most SSM advocates and opponents would disagree with you about the role the sexual relationship plays in the institution of marriage as a whole.

I wouldn't claim to know what "most" SSM opponents think about sex in marriage (do they think people who can't or don't want to have vaginal intercourse with each other should not be allowed to marry?), but I don't see why their ideas should define the debate.

Certainly many of the prominent supporters of SSM -- particularly those who are themselves gay -- do not agree with their opponents' obsession with sex as the defining characteristic of marriage. See, e.g., Andrew Sullivan, who has compared such concerns to the people who wanted to retain anti-miscegenation laws and were obsessed with hyper-sexualized black males' predations on innocent white maidens. (I remember this despite having read it many years ago, because at the time I quoted it to a woman who was questioning her ex's interest in me -- she assumed it must be based in racial exoticism.)

With the Supreme Court's striking down remaining anti-sodomy laws, if homosexuals were just concerned about sex, they'd have it made.

My understanding is that some large subset SSM advocates oppose normatively neutral (not truly neutral, since neutrality lacks sanction, but neutral in some sense) Anderson-style proposals to divorce civil benefits from the sexual aspect of marriage. Of course not every marriage involves actual sexual activity, but the natural and legal institution is organized around the presumption that the relationships are sexual.

I don't know what you mean by "natural," but can you point to how the "legal institution is organized around the presumption that the relationships are sexual"? I provided examples of how it is not. You've provided no evidence to counter that.

The opposition to Anderson-type proposals is based on the fact that they are designed to exclude same-sex relationships from the institution of marriage. That is their entire intent and purpose. They were never made prior to a meaningful movement for SSM. They are just as insulting now as they would have been had they been suggested as an alternative to recognizing interracial marriage.

If marriage were erased from the law entirely, and the Anderson civil union were the only kind of legal union available, same-sex couples wouldn't care about the divorcing of sex from a legal status, because the same legal status would apply to all. As it is, the Anderson civil unions are merely the latest form of "separate but equal."

Joe B. said...

You didn't say that you were speaking only of the Maine law, and Kalamazoo ordinance that David mentioned is about non-discrimination.

Actually if you read my comment and David's post, it's clear what I was talking about. I quoted his language on the repeal of the Maine law. Sorry if I could've made it more obvious, but it was certainly explicitly clear; there's no grammatical way to draw the wrong conclusion.

The anti-miscegenation example is inapt; no one ever thought interracial marriages were not marriages. Whether a particular type of marriages should be banned is a different questions from whether certain couplings are marriages.

Marriages have always been understood to be gendered relationships between sexually complementary spouses, even where those spouses were incapable or procreating or sexual activity; as an institution joining sexually complementary spouses it tends to promote procreation within permanent family structure. This is what I mean by naturally organized around the presumption that the relationship is sexual.

Of course I never claimed that sex is "the defining characteristic of marriage." (I doubt many folks, if anyone, has.) But my sense is that SS"M" advocates generally agree on the inherently erotic nature of marriage; otherwise, of course, it's equally wrong to exclude any other asexual pairing of people (cohabiting brothers, a single parent and child, an aunt/niece) from the institution.

The opposition to Anderson-type proposals is based on the fact that they are designed to exclude same-sex relationships from the institution of marriage. That is their entire intent and purpose.

Of course, this exclusion language assumes the relevant issue, which is whether marriage is definitionally a male-female relationship. The question isn't whether some people ought to be excluded from the marital relationship (although we do exclude certain couplings everyone would agree are marriages, such as siblings, child marriages, etc., for very different reasons). The question is whether certain relationships are marriages--that is, it's a question of what marriage is.

David Schraub said...

"Of course, this exclusion language assumes the relevant issue, which is whether marriage is definitionally a male-female relationship."

This is, bluntly, non-sense. "Marriage" doesn't exist extra-socially. It doesn't have a definition beyond what a given society grants to it, and that definition has always been historically fluid and contested (e.g., the shift from marriage as a property interest in a woman to marriage as loving partnership of equals). "Marriage" is not like "triangle", it doesn't exist as some sort of platonic concept external to social categorization decisions. We choose to render marriage exclusive to heterosexual couples, or we choose not to -- and at the moment it is a contested choice. With regards to a legislative classification like marriage, all it takes is a Congressional vote to make the change. This appeal to some sort of linguistic naturalism, much like the fictive appeal to humankind's supposedly "natural" view of violence as evil, is simply gibberish.

I'd also note that society can recognize mutually exclusive accounts of marriage, which is why Christians can define marriage as the "God-given capacity of man and woman to enter a covenantal relationship parallel to that between Christ and His church," and yet recognize a Jewish marriage utterly foreign to that localized definition (and why I, a Jew, can recognize Christian marriages equally foreign to my own communal definition). Indeed, without this sort of pluralism, I think modern, multicultural society would implode upon itself, because we'd consistently be being written in and out of each others nomoses, leading to rampant dehumanization of the weak by the strong (which is exactly what has happened to gays and lesbians being forcibly subjected to a singular, exclusivist account of marriage promulgated by the dominant social caste).

Joe said...

If marriage is just a social construct, the case for SS"M" seems much weaker. What's the moral imperatives for avoiding social constructs that only include only a particular sort of relationship? A compelling case for this particular labeling of same-sex relationships has to rely on some ontological account of marriage that makes marriage a definitionally exclusionary status good, right?

Why not invent a social construct of "Garriage," and we can all agree that it's a special sort of relationship that's even awesomer than marriage?

PG said...

The anti-miscegenation example is inapt; no one ever thought interracial marriages were not marriages.

That's exactly what they thought. What is your basis for claiming otherwise? The husband in Loving v. Virginia was arrested and charged under the Commonwealth's criminal prohibition on fornication. The Lovings may have thought they had an interracial marriage; the Commonwealth said they were not married and therefore were having sex outside marriage, and fornication violated Virginia law. Any sexual coupling of a black person and a white person in Virginia was fornication; it was not an "interracial marriage." (Virginia did permit certain interracial marriages; two people belonging to different races, so long as neither was white, could marry, so black-Asian interracial marriage was entirely legal. The Commonwealth was aware that Africans and Asians belong to different races.)

Marriages have always been understood to be gendered relationships between sexually complementary spouses, even where those spouses were incapable or procreating or sexual activity

How can the spouses be sexually complementary if they are incapable of sexual activity? What's complementary about that?

But my sense is that SS"M" advocates generally agree on the inherently erotic nature of marriage; otherwise, of course, it's equally wrong to exclude any other asexual pairing of people (cohabiting brothers, a single parent and child, an aunt/niece) from the institution.

And what is this sense based upon? I've cited a prominent SSM advocate who has argued against seeing marriage as "inherently erotic"; who is the SSM advocate who has said that it is?

Marriage in the United States today is a legal institution that creates a legally-recognized familial relationship between two persons who were previously unrelated. If you read the tax code, for an example of law that's not usually part of the culture wars, you'll see that the law already recognizes brothers, parent-child, even aunt-niece as "related parties" whose transactions are treated very differently than those of unrelated parties. A sale of my house to my sibling, my parent, my aunt or my spouse is treated differently under tax law than its sale to a non-related party.

The same is true in other areas of law, such as that relating to inheritance. If I die intestate (without a will), my children, parents, siblings et al. all stand in the line of inheritance. If I had not married my spouse, however, he would be legally ineligible to inherit from me. Under U.S. law, marriage allows one to create a familiar relationship one marries to create a familial relationship.

(You're also assuming a greater uniformity in marriage laws than actually exists. For example, Rhode Island law states: " § 15-1-4 Marriages of kindred allowed by Jewish religion. – The provisions of §§ 15-1-1 – 15-1-3 [forbidding incest] shall not extend to, or in any way affect, any marriage which shall be solemnized among the Jewish people, within the degrees of affinity or consanguinity allowed by their religion.")

PG said...

The question is whether certain relationships are marriages--that is, it's a question of what marriage is.

I think we are coming at this question of marriage from very different perspectives indeed. You seem to believe that a "relationship" is a marriage independent of any legal sanction or recognition, despite David's post having been about a law. It appears that in your view, if you feel married to someone "sexually complementary," it is a marriage, regardless of the state's opinion of the matter. I take exactly the opposite view: my feelings and my sexual activity are irrelevant, and what matters is what the state thinks of it.

If you're actually trying to have a discussion about marriage in a religious or psychological or biological or anything-other-than-legal sense, then we have been at cross-purposes here. I don't know enough about religion, psychology or biology to say what marriage is in those realms; I can only say what marriage is under the law of several states with which I am familiar and in a couple of other common-law jurisdictions (UK, India).

Marriage, to the extent that I care whether people of the same sex can enter into it, is a legal relationship. I don't care what the Catholics, Jews, Hindus, Freudians, Jungians, Darwinists or creationists think marriage is. I care how the government defines marriage and who gets put into the "fornicator" category instead of the "spouse" one.