Thursday, August 5, 2010

Morality and the overturning of Proposition 8

God, as portrayed by Michelangelo on the Sistine Chapel (Wiki Commons)
The image reflects the communal belief of the time, 1512, in an avenging god. This is not the face of the loving god spoken of by Jesus of Nazareth. Michelangelo painted his own sexual conflict and guilt, just as as Saul of Tarsus wrote his.

In deciding in favor of gay marriage in California, and in overturning the scurrilously Christian Proposition 8, a California judge opined that, “Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights.”

The shameful condition of education in the United States probably prevents even some otherwise thoughtful people from understanding the full import of the judge’s ruling; certainly, those mired in the insupportable belief that their religious beliefs equate with universal morality will never understand the perfection of the judge’s ruling.

Taking the single sentence above one piece at a time might, however, sway those with sufficient education and open-mindedness to stop equating their personal or community morality from the constitutional demands of the United States.

The concept of moral disapproval is, of course, the key ingredient. Morality is not written by god. It is not really written by anyone or any entity. Morality is, rather, a set of beliefs to which a community of people adhere. If one reads the whole bible, one will see that, in fact, ideas of morality have changed radically from the earliest of those books to those of the new testament. Indeed, even within the new testament, one has espousals of the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, which would demand equality and compassion for all humans.

And then one has the gospels of Saul of Tarsus, renamed St. Paul by Christians. Saul of Tarsus was a man so torn by his own sexuality, as some scholars maintain, that his epistles are the insupportable basis on which, to this day, the Roman Catholic Church attempts to impose a male superiority morality not only on its own adherents but―via its interference in the sovereign decisions of independent states (I refer to its rejection of Kathleen Kennedy as U. S. Ambassador to the Vatican)―on the rest of the world. On a world that does not share its concept of morality.

Just so, the right wing in the U.S. tries to enforce its communal morality on communities that have a different communal morality. And, thank goodness, one judge has put an end to it, at least for now. Perhaps the reversal will last only until the US Supreme Court weeds out its own narrow moralism, which at best reflects less than 50 percent of the communal morality of the nation, and begins to reflect the demands of the Constitution, a “morality” if you will that virtually all Americans agree with. That morality includes equality for all people under the law. All people. When it was written, the Constitution did not include women or non-white humans. Over the years, as the communal morality expanded to acknowledge those individuals, so did the interpretation of the Constitution. And, to ensure it, additional laws were written as well.

The term “improper basis” is somewhat problematical. Improper by whose reckoning, some might ask. Improper, in this case, means according to the demands of the Constitution as written, and as interpreted over the years. It does not mean improper by some arbitrary set of community beliefs. In its setting as part of a legal proceeding, the term improper can only be taken in its legal sense.

Finally, there is the concept of denying rights, which this decision seeks to end. I will freely admit that, for quite a while, I was unduly influenced by early religious training, as well as a certain sloppy philology on my part, and decided a “marriage” could be only between a man and a woman, although a “domestic partnership” could be between two women, two men, or a man and a woman for that matter.

During the run-up to Mr. Obama’s inauguration, in comments to a column I wrote then for, I was persuaded that I was in error. I am still persuaded of that, and I would posit that if it is my right to marry a man as I desired, then it is my friend’s right to marry a man, also, as he desired. It is somewhat uncomfortable for those of us not living in the gay community to deal with (to us) amorphous concepts of husband and wife. But no matter; the right of the gay community to marry is absolutely not superseded by other communities’ rights to be comfortable in the nomenclature at all times. In short, non-gay “morality” does not supersede gay “morality.”

Indeed, no particular community’s morality, extrapolating from this ruling, exceeds another community’s morality. If all are equal under the law, then so be it. And in the U.S., that is what the Constitution suggests that the entire community of Americans believes.

If all are equal under God―and I am somewhat convinced that all religions would at least pay lip service to that (except perhaps Westboro Baptist Church)―then this ruling has done nothing but conform California law to the religious teachings and community morality of all the citizens. Amen.

As for myself, being a non-Christian, somewhat pantheistic existentialist, the entire issue has allowed me to examine my core beliefs, define to which sub-community I belong, and expand my spiritual awareness. (Yes, Virginia, existentialists do believe in a spiritual world. Indeed, it is central, although expressed in humanistic terms.)