Thursday, November 6, 2008


Fear has it's place in our psychology. Fear of the Other and the Unknown kept us safe and cautious as we evolved. But in our modern world, it sometimes gets in the way.

Take the entire issue of Gay Marriage. I have yet to have anyone really explain to me how a marriage between a gay couple threatens mine in any way. It reminds me of the pressures that interracial couples faced not so long ago. In fact, it wasn't until 1967 when Loving v Virginia reached the Supreme Court that anti-miscegenation laws were made unconstitutional. At the time 16 states in the US were actively enforcing laws that prohibited interracial marriage. In parts of America, these couples still face rejection.

The argument that marriage is incontrovertibly caught up in the procreation of the race, which has been used by courts to exclude the Loving v Virginia case as "controlling upon the issue of same-sex marriage" doesn't hold much water. If procreation is the goal of marriage then logically any marriage that does not result in offspring is invalid. For this to be true, it means infertile couples, couples past child bearing age, and those that chose to remain childless should be equally held to have invalid marriages. Since they are clearly not viewed as so, this is by itself an indication of the discriminatory nature of anti-Gay Marriage laws.

Fear is the ultimate motivator behind the sometimes very rabid insistence of some that marriage should be defined as between one man and one woman (love that they felt they had to include "one" so as to avoid the whole issue of polygamy). But what are they afraid of?

There is the essential fear of the Other at work here. The fear that the Other will take away your control and force you into doing something you find offensive. We fear giving the Other the same rights as we enjoy out of the idea that this will somehow diminish our rights. And on many levels, homophobia can be traced to the fear that you yourself may be homosexual and then become a victim of your own prejudice.

These fears are irrational. Granting LGBTs the right to marriage, equal protection under the law and the same respect granted, or that should be granted, to every individual does not diminish you in any way. Gay marriage will not make heterosexual marriage any less valid. Gay men are not out to rape and seduce straight men any more than straight men are out to seduce or rape Gay men. That fear is a strongly misplaced sense of narcissism.

Many of these same arguments were used in regard to interracial marriage. Somehow the very idea of interracial marriage was seen as threatening to non-interracial marriage and the purity of the White race. And let's not forget the long held belief that Black men were intent on deflowering the cream of white womanhood. Being incapable of self-control when confronted with nubile young white girls, black men were assumed to be a threat.

While we now look on these ideas as misbegotten and unrepentant prejudice worthy only of our scorn, how do they really differ from the notion that Gay Marriage will undermine the family, result in higher divorce rates and the ultimate destruction of the human race? This did not happen when we allowed interracial marriages. It will not happen if we allow Gay Marriage.

The whole idea of the "American Family" was changing long before the idea of Gay Marriage came along as the perfect punching bag. The number of divorced people in the population more than quadrupled from 4.3 million in 1970 to 18.3 million in 1996, according to a Census Bureau. Gay Marriage was not legal in any state in the Union until the Massachusetts law in 2004. From January to December 2007, 2,443,857 Americans divorced, according to the Bureau of National Vital Statistics. That would seem like the number of divorces has decreased since the Massachusetts law went into effect. If numbers are your thing, this certainly looks like a kink in that argument.

Ultimately, fear is the basis for most of our prejudices, and generally it's an irrational fear. Fear served its purpose as we evolved. It kept us safe, helped us learn limits. It also led to warfare, prejudice and countless forms of discrimination.

It's time that we examined why so many of us are so fearful of the very idea of Gay Marriage. Let's us remember some very famous thoughts on fear as we enter into this study on who has the right to marry whom:

"I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain." Frank Herbert, Dune

"Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd." Bertrand Russel

And perhaps the most famous quote regarding fear of all:

"The only thing we have to fear is fear it'self - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified, terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."
---- FDR - First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1933

It is more than past time that we accepted the arguments against fair and equal treatment of the LGBT among us as based on fear. This fear diminishes us, makes us so much less than what we can be and needlessly destroys lives.

"Courage is not the lack of fear but the ability to face it." Lt. John B. Putnam Jr. (1921-1944)

Let us face our fears.

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