Maureen Walsh on Marriage Equality in Washington State

13 02 2012

At 11:30 a.m. on Monday morning, 13 February 2012, as the raindrops slide down the sides of Seattle’s skyscrapers, Washington state is expected to legalise same-sex marriage when Governor Christine Gregoire signs into law a bill passed by the state Legislature. The fight for equality in Washington has been an incremental one, starting with an anti-discrimination law (2006) and moving on to a domestic partnership law (2007), which was later expanded and approved by voters (2009), until the Legislature finally passed the marriage equality bill (2012). Senator Ed Murray, D-Seattle, an openly gay man, has played an instrumental role in the process, having spent the last few years sponsoring bills to expand gay rights. But what do impassioned lawmakers have to say?

The struggle to pass the marriage equality bill has been anything but perfunctory. Thanks to the Internet and social networking, people around the world have had the chance to witness the powerful, heartfelt speeches given by Washington lawmakers who support the bill. Interestingly, some of those lawmakers are Republicans, showing that compassion for devoted same-sex couples crosses party lines and touches on core humanist principles. I think we should all acknowledge this basic common-sense empathy when it pops up in Republicans. Maureen Walsh, a Republican representative for Washington’s 16th District of Walla Walla (where yours truly happens to have some super-conservative religious relatives) proved for me that empathy crosses party lines:

This was an inspiring speech, and it’s no wonder it has more than a few Youtube commenters a little bit verklempt. But what we should note is how Walsh touches on the argumentum ad populum of gay marriage opponents, which states that a thing is good just because it is popular. She bravely and passionately communicates that a belief is good not because it is popular, but because it makes people happy. And she holds her fellow lawmakers accountable for making a rational, fair-minded decision (the way Thomas Jefferson would). Her message wouldn’t have had the same clout, though, had she not made it personal and intimate by recounting her relationship with her lesbian daughter, who, as she recalls, used to stand up for bullied children on the playground. She tells her fellow legislators,

My daughter stood up for that kid, [and] even though it wasn’t the popular thing to do, she knew it was the right thing to do. And I was never more proud of my kid than knowing she was speaking against the vocal majority on behalf of the rights of the minority. And to me, it is incumbent upon us as legislators in this state to do that. That is why we are here. And I shudder to think that if folks who have preceded us in history [had not done] that—frankly, I’m not sure I would be here as a woman. I’m not sure that other people would be here due to their race or their creed, and to me that is what’s disconcerting.

Walsh is right. A thing is not right just because it is popular; it is right because it is reasonable, and it takes a principled leader to stand up and say, “this is right, and here are the reasons why”. Would we have abolished slavery had it been put up to a popular vote? Probably not. Would we have approved women’s suffrage had it been put up to a popular vote? Probably not. Neither decision was decided by a popular public vote. There are reasons why we have lawmakers brooding over the rights of minority groups. They take it seriously.

Marriage equality has triumphed in Washington state in part because of people like Maureen Walsh, who, despite her Republican status, believes that every loyal couple deserves the equal protection of the law. Hopefully this will be expanded to include the rest of the United States and, eventually, the rest of the world. To facilitate this effort, what we shoud be doing is proving to people who are still sitting on the fence why gays and lesbians deserve these rights, and we can do this by breaking down fallacies like the appeal to popularity, the appeal to nature, the slippery slope argument, the “special rights” argument, the “homosexuality is a choice” argument, the “homosexuality is condemned in the Bible” argument, and others (many of which I refute in my blog entry “8 Reasons Why Homophobia Makes No Sense“). However, we also need to complement our appeal to reason with anecdotes about the legal and personal struggles of individual gay and lesbian couples. We need to appeal to both justice and mercy. That will change both hearts and minds.





Gay Marriage, Majority Rule, and Minority Rights

19 01 2012

As the Washington state legislature mulls a bill that would legalise gay marriage, conservatives are crawling out of the woodwork to stop its passage or to punish Republicans who vote in favour of it by attempting to end their political careers. (The National Organisation of Marriage is trying to do this.) Some of these individuals and groups also want to put the decision up to a public vote. The argument they use to justify this kind of move is that majority opinion reigns supreme in a true democracy. I will argue here that majority opinion does not necessarily reign supreme in a true democracy, and I will show why this is so in four ways: democracy is not just defined as “majority rule”, but also as “equality”; the majority have no right to speak on issues which do not affect them; courts must adjudicate the law impartially; and legislators are not obliged to represent the views of their majority constituents on issues which do not affect their majority constituents.

I want to let you know that I am not telling you how the law actually works; I am simply telling you how it should work according to the principles of ethical reasoning.

With respect to the first point, the issue of gay marriage centres around the definition of democracy. Many conservatives will argue that gay marriage should be put up to a public vote because, in a democracy, the majority opinion rules. However, the definition of democracy does not begin and end with majority rule; it also involves the concept of equality. According to the Random House Dictionary, democracy has the following senses: government by the people, a state having such a form of government, a state of society characterised by formal equality of rights and privileges, political or social equality, and commoners as distinct from the privileged class. The definition of democracy encompasses the concepts of both self-representation and equality, so any gay marriage opponent who invokes democracy on the basis of the former, while ignoring the latter, is giving us a skewed, incomplete understanding of democracy. This hardly helps validate their opposition to gay marriage on democratic grounds.

This biased preoccupation with self-representation is closely linked to the notion of majority rule, which is consistently invoked by gay marriage opponents. Gay marriage opponents constantly argue that the quintessential democracy is defined by the reign of the majority opinion. But this is not necessarily so. A lot of issues should be decided by the majority, because those issues affect the majority, but not all issues do. If we treat democracy as “self-representation”, then the majority have the right to rule on issues which affect the majority, but they do not have the right to rule on issues which only affect the minority. Gay marriage only affects the minority, not the majority, therefore the majority have no right to rule on gay marriage. Thus, the conservative argument that the majority should rule on gay rights on the basis of “majority rule” is debunked.

Immediately gay marriage opponents will point out that this argument is not sound because, when a panel of judges rule on such an issue, a majority of votes still matters. It is true that a majority of votes matters when a court of law rules on gay marriage, but there is an important distinction to make: while the public vote on the basis of their personal prejudices, judges are obliged to adjudicate the law. While popular opinion is based on popular prejudice, legal opinion is based on interpretation of the law. It is not exactly fair to compare majority rule on the basis of personal prejudices with the majority rule of judges who are obliged impartially to fulfil the law. Therefore, it is invalid to compare majority rule through a public referendum with majority rule through a court of law, and, hence, it is invalid to say that judges should be doing the same thing as the public with regard to minority rights.

But, of course, gay marriage opponents will argue that judges are only adjudicating laws which are passed by elected representatives of the people. So, now the question is, whose interests do those elected representatives actually represent? Gay marriage opponents would argue that they represent the majority opinion of their constituency. This is not necessarily so. If we accept that the majority should rule only on issues which affect the majority, and not those which affect only the minority, then elected representatives are not obliged to represent the views of their majority constituents on issues which affect only the minority. Instead, they are obliged to defend minority interests. And whose majority vote determines that, you may ask? None, because the vote would be a unanimous decision based on reason, logic, and fairness. Reason, logic, and fairness are the ultimate arbiter, not popular opinion.

Of course, not all legislators are rational, hence not all laws they pass will be based on reason. This does not, however, mean that it is right that they pass the laws that they do. It only means that they fail to acknowledge reason. In some sense, the greatest intellectual burden lies on their shoulders.

In summary, I haven’t tried to create the perfect defense of gay marriage in modern-day democracies; I’ve merely tried to challenge how we alienate minorities using “majority rule” as an excuse, even when the majority have no justifiable interest in the lives of the minority. In principle, democracy should be about how we satisfy our personal interests, not how we control the lives of others. And when there is any question about how an issue affects us, it should be boiled down to whom it affects, and this is determined by reason.

That said, if you live in Washington state, and you live in one of the six constituencies led by undecided Washington state senators, I implore you to contact your senator and ask them to vote “yes” on the bill legalising gay marriage. We are just two senators’ votes away from marriage equality. Just two! It is good for gay people and for everybody else.





The Great Seattle Prayer War: Part One – The Summoning

10 08 2011

In a recent blog entry I discussed another, professional, blog entry in which I described how Texas governor Rick Perry is collaborating with radical Christian youth minister Lou Engles to organize a prayer rally in Houston. Lou Engles participated in a music album with the youth ministry Elijah Revolution which inspired another radical minister, Cindy Jacobs, to issue a prayer alert for Seattle and Washington state through her own network of prayer groups called Root 52. I mentioned that I would re-write that professional blog entry to convey the evil thoughts that dwell within my dark, unsaved mind. You will find these unruly, uncouth fancies distilled in the blog entry below. So unpeel your innocent eyelids and read on, warrior!

A hot, dry, satanic dust-storm swept over the lair of Mike and Cindy Jacobs in Weatherford, Texas, a righteous and sacred exurban Christian outpost of the depraved Dallas metroplex. It was no longer safe in Texas’s large cities, despite the fact that they all look like Tehran compared with San Francisco (except for Austin). No, even the Metroplex was succumbing to the sins of religious and sexual “tolerance”. It was increasingly necessary to move out of cosmopolitan city centres, where ideas were being exchanged and intellectuals bred thoughts like spores on the wind, and move to a more secluded, holy place—with plenty of free parking and only the barest modicum of blacks—a place pure with the blood of the lamb, where God’s moral code, as outlined in the Bible, could be enshrined and protected from the ravages of reason.

“By God’s holy grace”, cried Cindy to her husband, “we can’t hold up in here much longer. If this sandstorm is the Lord’s message that He is coming—and the Bible says it is so—we must by his grace save the heathens of the northern and coastal regions.”

“Honey, I understand”, said Mike, “because, as your husband, I must love you, but as your husband, I cannot suffer you to usurp my authority with your unwarranted speech.” And with this, he gave his wife a brief lesson on 1 Timothy 2:12, followed by a lesson on Ephesians 5:22.

“Aye”, said the submissive wife diffidently, showing signs of disappointment, “so it is, for the Bible—the inerrant word of God—tells us so.” She clung to him, laying her head on his chest, and the little ones crowded round them to hear these sage words, for they were captivated by the sight of a woman leeching wisdom from a man, the source of all divine knowledge. A new breed of prayer warriors was born. Except for one little bastard named Susie. She flat-out refused.

“Why should wives submit to their husbands?” asked Susie inquisitively.

“Wives should submit to their husbands because the Lord in Heaven tells them so through His gospel”, spake the wise and humble father, bestowing his magnanimity like crumbs upon the females who clustered at his feet like starved hens clucking for more from the great cock.

“But the Bible also justifies the enslavement of daughters”, countered the precocious little Jezebel, quoting Exodus 21:7. “How, then, can you say that the Bible is the word of God without saying that God hates women and supports slavery?”

“That was the old covenant, Susie”, grunted the father impatiently. “Jesus gave us a new covenant.”

“Oh, so there was still a time when selling daughters into slavery was necessary, then”, she said. “If God hadn’t become Jesus and killed himself to pay for human imperfection, which he himself created, we would still have reason to slaughter goats, stone adulteresses to death, and execute gay people.”

“Susie”, said her father impatiently. Here he was at a momentary loss for words. His daughter took advantage of the pause.

“Well”, she continued, “thank God we’ve upgraded the sacrificial victim from a goat to a human. What an improvement. This time, instead of slaughtering goats to propitiate God, we get to nail a human being to a cross and let him take days to die. But he’ll magically rise from the dead—but, in the end, he’ll still have been tortured to death. And even more, Jesus is God, so that means God is killing himself for us to accept his suicide so that he can pay himself his own dues. That’s not schizophrenic at all.”

The father evaded these uncomfortable observations and stonewalled his daughter by re-asserting, “God wants men to protect women because women need the wisdom of men—”

“—Dad, you’re not acknowledging any of my points. I’ve just countered the one that you are re-stating. Don’t re-state. Refute.”

“Susie—”

“—Stop calling me Susie. My birthname is Mei Ping. Yeah. I dug into your and Mom’s files and found out I was picked up at a Shanghai adoption agency in 1999. So cut the crap.”

Shocked at her discovery and drawing on his last reserves of patience, the stonily patronizing father resumed. “Mei Ping, God wants men to protect women because women need the wisdom of men—”

“—but that’s paternalism”, interrupted Mei Ping.

“It’s what?”

“It’s paternalism. It’s saying that men know better than women. It is the manner of providing an individual protection while, at the same time, denying that individual her rights as an autonomous human being. It is protecting her while depriving her. This sort of domestic arrangement effectively constitutes totalitarianism within the household, and it is unreasonable and egotistical.”

“Susie!”

“I’m Mei Ping.”

“Susie!”

“Okay, fine, I’m Susie. But—”

“—Susie, go to the basement. I have no further need of your oratories.”

“But, Dad, you give plenty of them yourself. Why, then, shouldn’t I return the same trenchant lecturing? Oh, right. Because I have a vagina.”

“Susie! You never say that ugly word in this household. Do you hear me?! That language is vile! Now go to the basement!”

“Ugh, yes, Father.” And with that, 12 year-old Susie trod downstairs to her cabbage-patch-doll-studded dungeon beneath the windswept intellectual desert of Weatherford, Texas, with nothing to do but watch Christian puppet videos amid a menagerie of stuffed animals. There she mulled and languished, her indignation stewing under a single, pale lightbulb, a stuffed pink unicorn at her side.

“Honey”, said Cindy, “You handled that brilliantly! I remember when I was a petulant little girl with thoughts of my own and didn’t know when to submit to my elders. I had to be taught by example how misguided my thoughts were.”

“Thank you, wife. I will always honour and love you for the kind support you show me.”

“Now that that’s taken care of, husband, I’ve had this thought on my mind for a while now. I think it is time to attack Seattle.”

“I accept your opinion, wife. That evil northwestern coastal city of Baal is full of faggots, feminists, fornicators, witches, mixed marriages, and single-parent households. More than anywhere, it needs to be bathed in the sweet blood of the lamb”.

“Amen”, said the wife, “the blood of our sacrificial victim, Lord Jesus Christ.”

“I accept your opinion”, said the husband humbly, “for the Lord said I should love you.”

“Then let us gather our forces and attack!”

“I concur.”

“Let’s use children from the exurbs!”

“Agreed ten thousand times over. In fact, I already thought of that. But don’t speak too much.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“First we must make our plan known to our covert operatives in the Root 52 network. We must publish a prayer alert for this Washington state and this city of Seattle!”

“Yaaaay!” screeched Cindy hysterically, clinging to the man’s thick arm as an ivy wraps round a giant oak.

With the plan in place, the Jacobses summoned their Root 52 prayer troops—mostly children they had culled from nearby church playgrounds, their own children in tow—and marched forth with their guns, American flags, and Christian country music albums toward the Great White North. Seattle! Somewhere up there. Canada or the Cascades or something. Canada-Seattle-Albertaville. It all gets confusing past Denver, and when you have to work with a map, and in two dimensions, it is especially gruelling.

Mike and Cindy stomped through friendly prayer-warrior territory at first—northern Texas, far northern Texas, and then far, far northern Texas, recruiting more young children from their apprehensive, stupidly confused families along the way—and then, after crossing a number of friendly super-malls dominated by parking lots, Wal-Marts, and Neiman Marcus outlets, they had to cross a state boundary. God bless us. Thank goodness it was the Oklahoma state boundary. Thank goodness they were still white, Christian, and American. Mostly. Who knew which states the Mexicans had stolen back from America since that time America stole them from Mexico?

Mike and Cindy soon met the lone prairie. A prairie they had never met before. Back home in Texas the prairie was covered in cows, daisies, and church spires—all the trappings of our glorious Lord, Jesus Christ—and it was the same when they were crossing the Oklahoma panhandle, but as they made their way across Kansas, and then Nebraska, gazing upon those long, lonely grasses, they realised they were in limbo. Evangelical Christian limbo. These souls needed to be saved! But not as badly as those up north and west. Or somewhere up theres-ville.

“Lord”, whimpered Cindy, staring zombie-like through the windscreen, her hands clenched together, “we are in a dark country now. We walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and we ask for your guidance.” Here she closed her eyes intently; her husband continued driving with one limp hand dangling over the steering wheel, a pair of eyes staring stonily at the road. “We cannot fight this battle alone. We need your power, your wisdom, your might—your fury—to guide us forth, vanquish our enemy, and take back America for you.” Her voice took on a strangely primal, quavering cadence. “Lord, we ask you to sweep your mighty hand across this once-great land and wash it clean with your blood. We ask you to take your mighty fingers, pick up the dust of the earth, and throw it in the face of your adversary, Satan. We ask you to take that same dust and mould it into a mighty host of beasts filled with the vicious wrath of your righteous goodness! We ask, God, that you plague the land with your fury and bring the people of America back to the ways of their Saviour and Creator. Satan, we rebuke you in the name of the Lord, Jesus Christ!”

The wife said these words with such absolute intensity and conviction that neither she nor her husband heard the thudding noise until it began to rattle the windows and the console, causing the children in the back of the caravan to giggle with excitement. At that, they looked out their windows behind them and witnessed a vast storm pregnant with brown-grey clouds looming overhead. From these stretched downward a vast number of dust-devils; on the land below these were what looked like a giant herd of rabid, ferocious hyaena-like beasts with matted hair, watery red eyes, and bared sharp teeth covering the plain as far as the eye could see. Beast and dust-devil consumed the land and sky in a cloud of shifting shapes and forms, darting over rocks, streams, and escarpments, moving in the same direction as the caravan. One of the land-creatures latched a claw on to the right rearview mirror of the caravan, where Cindy sat. She screamed.

Keep reading to find out what happens to the Mike and Cindy Jacobs caravan as the swarm of beasts descends. You will discover many new characters, including the tree-people, the frost giants, Lilith, and Susie. But be forewarned: never misjudge a girlish laugh or a pretty-sounding name.