Breaking the rules
VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – It becomes clearer as one gets older just how resigned society is to certain paradigms of lifestyle. To test this observation, all you have to do is step outside if the established pattern for a bit and see exactly how square the hole into which your rounded shape is trying to jam itself actually is.
Oh, we’re all used to the iconoclasm of youth, particularly those of us who are baby boomers We know all about the fights over long hair, the youth culture battles of the late ‘60s, emergence of the rock culture, recreational drug use, living together without the sanction of marriage, single parenthood, and pretty much everybody either has or has known someone who has come out as gay. But the truth is that those issues have pretty much either resolved themselves or society has come to some kind of accommodation with them.
Those of you who know me personally also know that one of the personal characteristics frequently remarked upon is that I tend not to think or act in a mainstream way much of the time. It seems that the direction my life has taken in the last few years has reinforced that impression. For someone who is fairly familiar with being out of step with much of society, I have been discovering that things that seemed normal and straightforward to me are considered to be eccentric, even bizarre by many people.
My son just turned four. This summer I will turn fifty seven. That strikes a lot of people as strange; some are even offended. I’m not going to recount the full backstory of how, why, and with what difficulties Yolanda and I adopted JJ at my venerable age; I don’t feel inclined to defend that decision. I will say that had Yolanda and I not chosen to do what we did, our beloved little boy, who has brought us indescribable joy, would be naked, parentless, probably unloved, malnourished, and facing a bleak future in an impoverished village in a 3rd World country.
Nevertheless, I am often looked at askance when I mingle with the parents of JJ’s pre-schoolmates. For one thing, since, as a writer, I work out of the house and am JJ’s primary caregiver, I attend those kinds of events when Yolanda is at work; most of the parents with whom I associate are women easily young enough to be my daughters. I’m fairly used to that atmosphere, of course; Yolanda, being more than twenty years younger than me and from a different part of the world, has necessarily turned our social circle into a pretty eclectic and non-traditional group.
But as the world becomes more flexible, as people’s life expectancies increase, and as tolerance becomes expected rather than the exception, it becomes clearer to me that the ideal of withholding judgment while respecting the choices, lifestyles, and rights of others still has a long way to go. I am occasionally annoyed by the implicit ageism I run into as the parent of a four-year-old. I must acknowledge with a degree of pride that, in Canada, Yolanda and I have never, not once, been subjected to any detectable racism despite our different skin colours and ethnicities (except for online trolls, and I discount those cowards); we have, however, frequently shocked or at least raised eyebrows with our age difference.
It therefore is not completely unclear to me just how painful and awkward it must be for gay couples in a society that still thinks there is a reasonable debate to be had as to whether the right to marry the person one loves ought to be denied on the basis of chromosomal distribution. Canada, I’m happy to say has for many years recognised marriage equality and it did so without fanfare or hand-wringing. It was obviously the right thing to do, so it was done. Nobody who is in a male-female marriage can legitimately claim that they were negatively impacted, and the institution of marriage is doing just fine, or as fine as it was doing before the legal recognition of marriage equality.
I have often wondered just how brutally painful it would have been for me and for Yolanda had there been a legal impediment to our marrying because of our races.
(In Indonesia, where we were married, there do exist laws preventing mixed marriages…specifically, marriages between people of different religions. Like most inconvenient laws in Indonesia, however, these aren’t taken very seriously. The laws are Muslim-inspired laws intended to prevent Muslims from diluting their faith by marrying infidels and possibly bring up children as kafirs. Some Muslim clerics believe that for a woman to convert from Islam to Christianity is punishable by death, so conversion for convenience isn’t very common. I personally know at least five men, however, who legally converted to Islam so that they could legally marry Muslim women. Nobody in the union takes either the conversion or Islam itself seriously, of course – in fact one of those people is an ordained Christian minister – but this way they avoid any hassles.)
But it’s worthwhile remembering that in the US laws against mixed race marriage existed right up to the mid-20th Century. We know now that such laws were a grotesque violation of the civil rights of people who simply wanted their committed relationship to be recognised by society like anyone else’s. It ought to be a source of shame for any thinking American that the Supreme Court of the United States isn’t simply mechanically ruling for equal rights. The anti-marriage equality forces haven’t even raised an argument for their position…they are doing nothing but fighting equality by trying to keep the Supreme Court out of the fray and allow the decision to devolve to the states.
It is also worth noting that some of the most fervent Christians have it on good authority that God disapproves of mixed marriages and quote Deuteronomy 7 to support that bigotry. In today’s pro-bigotry argument, they have Leviticus 28:22 to support their anti-equality agenda. Nevertheless, there is Jesus, who espoused inclusion, tolerance and non-judgmentalism (and according to some historians was clearly gay). Go figure. But since we’re dealing with the Supreme Court here, there is a piece of literature that is literally a higher law than any scripture of any religion: the Constitution of the United States of America. And that is supported by the Founding Fathers’ clear and explicit intention to maintain an impregnable wall to serve as the separation of church and state.
If the Supreme Court passes the buck to the states on this issue it will be a shameful piece of judicial duty shirking. Nevertheless, there seems to be an inclination to do exactly that, solving exactly nothing. There has rarely been a clearer constitutional issue than the question of extending constitutional guarantees to all citizens. It’s in front of SCOTUS right now…let’s see whether this court is still behind the curve of the rest of society.