Court Papers

The Iowa Supreme Court opinion on gay marriage.

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The last week has been good for homosexuals. Most recently, the Vermont legislature overrode Governor James Douglas’s veto of a bill legalizing gay marriage. The vote was pretty lopsided in favor of gay marriage. Just four days before that, the Iowa Supreme Court came down with a decision making it illegal for the state to deny same-sex couples the right to marry. The Iowa decision was a big deal, primarily because it came from the “heartland,” hitherto the bastion of “traditional values.”

The Iowa court’s decision is important for another less tangible reason. What is extraordinary about the document, the text of the ruling, is its lack of bullshit. Once all the legal mumbo jumbo is dispensed with, it gets right to the core of the issue. Are these homos human beings or not? If they are, then you can’t take away their rights, any of them. The court concludes that all the legal arguments for excluding one group of human beings from exercising their rights are hooey. And it goes further. In the final sections of the ruling, the court addresses the underlying cultural struggle at play here:

It is quite understandable that religiously motivated opposition to same-sex civil marriage shapes the basis for legal opposition to same-sex marriage, even if only indirectly. Religious objections to same-sex marriage are supported by thousands of years of tradition and biblical interpretation. The belief that the “sanctity of marriage” would be undermined by the inclusion of gay and lesbian couples bears a striking conceptual resemblance to the expressed secular rationale for maintaining the tradition of marriage as a union between dual-gender couples, but better identifies the source of the opposition. Whether expressly or impliedly, much of society rejects same-sex marriage due to sincere, deeply ingrained — even fundamental — religious belief.

But the court has already let it be known how it feels about “several thousand years of tradition” with a gotcha quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes we find earlier in the text of the ruling. Here’s what Holmes said: “It is revolting to have no better reason for a rule of law than that so it was laid down in the time of Henry IV. It is still more revolting if the grounds upon which it was laid down have vanished long since, and the rule simply persists from blind imitation of the past.” The court is saying, simply, that homosexuals are human beings in every single way that anyone else is a human being. The Court is betting that, in their heart of hearts, everybody else instinctually knows this to be true as well.

As a kid growing up in Los Angeles in the ’80s, I was rather free with the word “faggot.” It was used in a pejorative manner, though if you had asked me, I would have mouthed the basic tolerant platitudes. Once, in a “moral intervention” rather unusual for my Lefty but less-than-preachy parents, I was sat down and it was brought to my attention that the fag talk had gotten egregious. I remember suddenly feeling extremely uncomfortable, a flush spreading about my neck and face. It’s just a word, I protested, no big deal. Then why use it, the parental figures retorted. The conversation went back and forth. But my father had reserved his secret weapon until the end. As he walked away from me, he said casually over his shoulder, “You know, your uncle Vince is gay.”

It blew my mind for a minute. I didn’t know that Uncle Vince was gay. Sure, yeah, I said, but the revelation cut down to the core of me. It is a simple, human emotion. It is called shame. Taken too far it can lead to resentment, anger, self-hatred. But as the ancient Greeks liked to observe with some frequency, it is a hell of a gut check. How you respond to shame is, in a real sense, how you stack up as a human being. For Euripides and Sophocles, whoever cannot negotiate the territory of shame is usually guaranteed an ugly end, generally murder or suicide, sometimes worse. In this sense, we could all stand to be a little more Greek (no pun intended), more willing to listen to our internal conscience, that internal self-checking mechanism that makes us nervous and self-aware. That’s when we have a chance of getting it right.

I’m a petty and self-absorbed little man, but I knew then, as I know now, that my Uncle Vince deserves every damn right afforded to every other human being. The fact that the “gay uncle” meme is something of a cliché only furthers the argument. There are too many gay uncles out there to pretend this is not a big deal. Point being, it has gotten to where gay rights, and its current manifestation as the “gay marriage” issue, has become a test of one’s essential humanity. And that’s not the kind of test you want to fail.

This brings us back to the sanity and common sense of the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision, and why it is a ruling for the ages. I am particularly fond of footnote number 26, which observes that:

The research appears to strongly support the conclusion that same-sex couples foster the same wholesome environment as opposite-sex couples and suggests that the traditional notion that children need a mother and a father to be raised into healthy, well-adjusted adults is based more on stereotype than anything else.

Stated in the reverse, same-sex couples are just as screwed up as opposite-sex couples. This is a fundamental axiom of liberal democracy upon which both the Iowa Supreme Court and Polish Solidarity leader Adam Michnik agree, Adam having made the observation that, “democracy is a continuous articulation of particular interests, a diligent search for compromise among them, a marketplace of passions, emotions, hatreds, and hopes; it is eternal imperfection, a mixture of sinfulness, saintliness, and monkey business.” God knows why homosexuals actually want to subject themselves to the institution of marriage. But they sure as hell have every right to, so let the monkey business commence. • 9 April 2009

 

Morgan Meis has a PhD in Philosophy and is a founding member of Flux Factory, an arts collective in New York. He has written for n+1, The Believer, Harper’s Magazine, and The Virginia Quarterly Review. He won the Whiting Award in 2013. Morgan is also an editor at 3 Quarks Daily, and a winner of a Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers grant. A book of Morgan’s selected essays can be found here. He can be reached at morganmeis@gmail.com.

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