Monday, February 23, 2009

"Shame" Penn "Milks" the Oscars for Extant "Equal Rights" for Gays

Did you watch the Academy Awards? Me, neither. Well, I saw Hugh Jackman's opening song-collage and thought, "eh." With my criteria for films of no violence, no suspense and no slapstick, I hadn't seen any of the contenders for awards. Plus, I had better stuff to do with three-and-a-half hours on a Sunday evening.

But I asked someone who did see the Oscars about it, and he told me (among other things) that Sean Penn's nod for "Milk" was unexpected, and that "Milk" also won for Best Original Screenplay. He said the show ignored politics and the expected kudos to Barack Obama, except when Penn called him "elegant." I decided to check out his acceptance on You Tube.

I realize that Sean Penn won Best Actor for his portrayal of one now considered a standard-bearer for gay rights. But I was surprised at the venom with which he "shamed" those on the prevailing side in a California election: "...I think it's a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame, and the shame in their grand-children's eyes if they continue that way of support. We've got to have equal rights for everyone..." His voice was cracking.

OK, I realize he means "equal rights to marry whom one chooses." But everyone does have equal rights, including to legally marry a person of the opposite gender, and he has equal restrictions, too (from marrying a child, from marrying one already married, from marrying one's sibling, etc.). Everyone also has equal rights to make personal commitments, live with whom he chooses, pledge love, and organize (no pun intended) his sex life.

Then I decided to watch the acceptance speech of Dustin Lance Black, who grabbed the statuette for "Milk's" Best Original Screenplay: "The story of Harvey Milk gave me hope that I could live my life and one day get married..." (Am I to assume this person I've never heard of before could

He continued, "If Harvey had not been taken from us...I think he'd want me to say to all the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight...that you're beautiful, wonderful creatures of value, and that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you and that very soon, I promise you, that you will have equal rights federally across this great nation of ours [sic]."

I agree. Every person is a wonderful creature of value, loved by God, with equal rights federally (across this great nation of ours)-- except for lots of stuff that varies by many different kinds of status. For example...It's great there's no military draft at the moment, but even now men age 18 (and not women of any age) have to register. Here in my community, free anonymous AIDS tests are being offered--to black people only. In nearly every public establishment, rest rooms are segregated by gender. And I notice that my national phone company has some nifty offers going--to new customers only. Or look at all the rewards Obama's stimulus package gives to only defaulting homeowners--discriminating against the financially responsible.
Meanwhile, I was catching up on my "mountain" of newspapers-to-be-read, and while savoring the delight of my favorite section, New York Times' "Style," I came across two articles that suggest public homosexual coupling is already ho-hum. One, from the December 21, 2008 (okay, I'm way behind) "Vows" column, celebrated the marriage of Jeff Weinstein, 61, and John Perreault, 71, shown embracing in a one-third-page color photo, as Rachel Peters, a Provincetown, Mass. Justice of the Peace, smiles approvingly.

Mr. Perreault, in case you're not a New Yorker, "was an art critic at The Village Voice and then The SoHo News, and his nude portrait by the painter Alice Neel is part of the permanent collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art." Mr. Weinstein is "an arts and culture commentator," formerly an English lecturer at San Diego State University, and also a food writer.

The reason why I'd clipped this story is because I'm doing a book on marriage as the combination of opposites, and here was a couple described in the story as "a study in congruent contrasts." One is "tall and gingery," the other "short and dark." One "is a slow burner" while the other's "a live wire." One, "a people person," the other "more of a loner." Why do you need two sexes to have "opposites"?

Well, you don't need two sexes to have opposites unite. But you need two sexes for legal marriage, government's sanction for sexual coupling that theoretically could (and usually does) include the creation of society's future generation.

Jeff and John, who love each other, made a lifelong commitment in 1977. They worked during that time to gain benefits for their partnership accorded married people, successfully advocating for employee health benefits at The Village Voice in 1982. They've apparently enjoyed a close and mutually rewarding relationship for 32 years.

I found the article about their ceremony touching: "Mr. Weinstein and Mr. Perreault wept while reading Walt Whitman poems to each other," after which they moved matching friendship rings from their right to their left hands. I wish them well. "John continues to surprise me," Jeff said of his new "spouse." "I still don't know what's deep inside him. And I still want to know."

I'm not going to touch "what's deep inside him." I really don't want to know. Because plenty of men have close bonds with other men, even the love and commitment that long-term friendship can bring. Even sharing an abode doesn't necessarily imply any kind of hook-up. Plenty of people room together--and become best friends and confidants--but wouldn't dream of a homosexual liaison.
The only thing clearly different between those relationships and Jeff and John's is the physical attraction and expression that's part of Jeff and John's connection. It is that aspect that causes Mr. Perrault and Mr. Weinstein to declare their devotion and live together rather than just meet up for poker, or to peruse museums and sample gourmet restaurants. Or even to have a lively intellectual interchange via phone, email or in-person chats.

Now comes the question: "But the difference between platonic and romantic cross-sex relationships is sexual expression, too. Why should straights get the perks of marriage, and gays not?" Answer: because straights had the word 'marriage' first--and always used it to mean the combining of physiologically opposite genders sexually, the outcome of which can be vastly consequential.

Note two aspects to that answer: 1) "...physiologically opposite genders..." Men and women are different in every cell of their bodies. They fit together in a way suggested by anatomy. 2) "...the outcome of which can be vastly consequential." Male-female sexuality enables the creation of new human beings who require nurturing and support until adulthood. The permanent joining of parents for the upbringing of offspring is of crucial importance to society.

The second article I clipped from The Times' "Sunday Style" section (February 15, 2009) is a "Field Notes" column, "Of Course You Can Have It All," about gays' wedding (and commitment/civil union) ceremonies. What struck me is the insistence that two men or two women pledging their lives to each other is identical to opposite sexes marrying.

For example, Berkeley, CA (surprise!) residents Tina Cansler, 31, a college student, gave her partner, Katie Krolikowski, 35, a biology professor, a solitaire diamond ring, spurring "close family friend" Kim Smith to host for them "a traditional engagement party" which, she said "is completely appropriate" given "that it is the same kind of relationship as if a man and woman were to get married."

Berkeley resident (yes) Cortney Bucks, 29, also presented a diamond when she got on one knee and proposed to Stacy Thompson, 31: "Politically and cathartically it was important to us to have all the things men and women have in preparation for their marriage," Ms. Bucks declared. "I kept thinking, 'Why shouldn't we, why couldn't we have it all?"

May I respond, Ms. Bucks? You can have all the accoutrements of traditional marriages--the ring, the bended-knee, the blow-out reception, the fabulous gowns--but you can never have "it all" because "it" is the combining of male and female. That is marriage. And unless the term is re-defined against citizens' will (remember, you can't make "table" into "chair" without losing all specificity, which is what definitions are all about), "marriage" is all we've got to describe cross-sex permanent commitment.

The issue is about semantics, but semantics are crucial. I don't mind if two men or two women want to make their lives together, or want to get engaged or want to call their relationship anything they want. I don't mind if they receive benefits that nowadays unmarried heterosexual live-togethers do. I'm actually glad when gays and lesbians maintain stable relationships, because commitment brings mature behavior, which is good for society.

But I want to protect the definition of marriage, because without it, there's no term at all for that unique combining of male and female, the only means to create children, and the best way to raise them.

So, Sean Penn and Dustin Lance Black, enjoy your gold Oscars. Keep assuring audiences that God loves them, and that they have value. But don't use the positive, noble-sounding term "equal rights," as a euphemism for "eliminate marriage as the world has always known it."

I promise you, Sean, Dustin and "all the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight," right now, federally, you have equal rights... across this great nation of ours. The folks who voted in Proposition 8 in California don't hate you. They're just feeling defensive about the "marriage" they know and hold dear.


  1. I'm thrilled with the sensibility and kindness you portray in this post. I imagine most proponents of genderless marriage (and just what does that mean even?) would hear only what they want to, but I sense a tremendous amount of sensitivity and understanding about the actual implications of what it means to be gay versus the arguments for a redefinition of marriage.

    I am traditional in that I believe marriage is defined not just by society but by God, in HIS very gift of our indelible nature, male and female, stewards over the earth, creators—"Be fruitful, and multiply"—in our own right. I believe marriage and the consummation of marriage through sex is one of God's greatest gifts, in that HIS own desire for creation was an organized constituency of family.

    That constitution has never been challenged without consequence (Sodom and Gomorrah? Ancient Greece? Rome?), and probably never challenged like it has been today. I fear an end-of-days scenario, not merely as Apocalyptic Christian canon (I'm admitting my persuasion here), but an unfolding of protections already based in the family. The undoing of family has already posed it's great threat on society, and here we go again for another round. Should we constitute, federally, genderless marriage? What is America? What is federal protection, if not for family?

    My feeling in all of this, as you so eloquently intimated (if I got you correctly) is that marriage protects the God-constituted sexual union of husband and wife, and a legal redefinition of such institution undoes one of God's greatest protections to all of humanity. The quiet unraveling of thread, all in shambles.

    Some of my closest friends are clueless. I appreciate your clear voice.

  2. American Yak, thank you; I've been bashed a lot for my position. Though I share with you a personal religious orientation (different religion, however), no argument for traditional marriage can succeed on that ground. So I'm careful to avoid it and try to focus on logic that even atheists can embrace. Thank you especially for your comment about my sensitivity. I try to convey that, but those who disagree, I've found, tend to dismiss me and anyone with our persepective as haters.

  3. Diane!!! I am just thrilled to find you in the blogosphere - and adding your brilliant insight into the marriage debate. I've been on the frontlines of the Prop. 8 battle here in California - it's been quite the experience! My blog's - and it's so validating to have wise voices such as yours in the dialogue of opinions. Thank you for this. You are so dead on.

    Say hi to Michael and the kids for me (if y'all remember me?)!

    All my best,
    Christa - the BYU intern from summer '02