Another experiment gone by

Well, I’m pre-emptively calling off big gay january, as it appears that thematic concerns, while great for making me do even longer pieces requiring lots of research, have also left me with a raft of half- or quarter-completed posts. It doesn’t help that this idea doesn’t really fit my off-the-cuff analytical writing preference. In that spirit, let’s talk a bit about race instead.

Anyone with at least half a television set has probably heard several times by now about the story of the Israeli woman who was barred from a Turkish restaurant in Invercargill. There have been several forays ’round the bloglines into pro-israeli and pro-palestinian positions, and even some on the incident down south.

Firstly, I’m glad to see so many people realise that throwing someone out of your shop just because they might be associated with a cause you fundamentally oppose is ritualistically insane. The woman involved was not a supporter of the war, she was not saying or doing anything to imply that she was, so this is one man’s (two men’s now, I suppose) attempt at blanket punishment. It’s stupid, it’s petty, and it violates the idea that he has opened a public restaurant. If I lived my life along similar principles there would be few people left who I could actually get along with. This is not the kind of thing that adults do.

I hesitate, however, to call it racism1. Not because there was no element of pre-judging someone by race- clearly there was. But because this was not some systemic attempt by arabs to dominate and oppress Jews. This wasn’t about systemic oppression. This was about an active and violent conflict that people on both sides oppose. And we’d do well to remember that in our condemnation of the incident over here: that this person is someone who took their reaction to what’s happening in their homeland a little far.

On the wider conflict: I disagree with David Farrar on the warcrimes bit, but while respecting his view that Israel has a right to exist and defend itself. Israel has clearly issued a disproportionate response without clear justification, their allegations that Hamas is coaching little kids en masse to lie to Western media is impractical at best, and there is already an internal investigation underway into whether phosphor bombs were used on civilians. (These bombs should only ever be used as smokescreens away from combatants, as they literally melt the skin and lead to an excruciating death that makes the end seem merciful.)

My general take on the wider conflict is that Israel is ignorant and stupid. They are fighting terrorists, not a war. When you fight terrorists you’re essentially fighting a political battle to deplete their funds, shut down their businesses, and tank their popularity. Why? Because there is no viable military solution to the type of terrorism that goes on in the middle east, where suicide-bombing is common, and where Hamas declares victory after Gaza gets the shit blown out of it. That is what makes their response so mind-numbingly unnecessary: not only was it wrong even if it had defended themselves, but in the medium-term it has made the situation worse. These orphaned children will now be prime recruits for the military wing of Hamas. Already weapons and fuel are being smuggled through tunnels, both old ones re-dug and new ones. The only way to end this is to go beyond ceasefire into meaningful and co-operative peace, with two tightly co-operative nations forming in the area that was once the British Mandate of Palestine.

But let me give you no illusions that I support the Palestinians, either. They’re in many ways worse than the Israelis in this conflict. Hamas’ military wing is a terrorist organisation that already has too much international support. Even the socio-political wing of Hamas has this obscene suicide-pact view of victory where they can sacrifice their citizens for a claim on more land that currently is under Israeli control when they sit down to negotiate for real. (Because none of them are under the illusion that they will win by force of arms. They clearly cannot, and terrorism isn’t stopping Israel either.) There is too much concern with “reclaiming what is theirs” and not enough concern with the welfare of their people, even if they have in many ways done a better job than Fatah.
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“Redefining Marriage”

Welcome to Big Gay January! This month I’m going to be focusing on a lot of GLBTQI stuff to see how that influences my writing. (And also because I’m in a very gay mood lately) Probably mostly GLB stuff because that’s what I’m most familiar with 😉

So, one of the huge success stories of the GLBTQI movement in the USA has been its push for gay marriage- namely that it has scared the jesus out of the conservatives1 that are pretty freaked out that this push could actually succeed. There’s talk in conservative circles of offering everything but the kitchen sink- ie. equitable civil unions and non-discrimination protections. Which is good. Clearly our queer sisters and brothers across the Pacific have shown us that if your position is sensible and consistent, pushing as hard as you can for what you really want redefines the “compromise” position.

So, what tactics have the social conservatives come up with to halt the march of progress? Well, they talk about “redefining” marriage. I’ve talked about the myth of marriage being an unchanged institution before, but there is some technical correctness here- when social conservatives talk about marriage being between a man and a woman uninterrupted for thousands of years since its inception, they are mostly correct. The assumption, bigoted though it was, was that sex between men (lesbians need not apply, because nobody knew or apparently cared that you existed for a lot of that time) happened only because of lust, and thus it was somehow inherently sinful. How this is different from normal sex is anyone’s guess. Now, while they are largely correct that marriage has always been between men and women since it started and until now2, they are incorrect to say that it has never been redefined and that they are right to oppose marriage equality on those grounds. Marriage has had countless redefinitions. Firstly, we stopped viewing it as a transaction where a father paid a suitor to take care of his daughter, and viewed it as a partnership between two independent and equal adults. In short, we injected feminism and equal rights into marriage. That was a redefinition, and if you oppose marriage equality on the grounds of redefinition, you ought to also be working just as hard to reinstate marriage as a financial transaction and revoke equal rights for women. And we all know that’s not a position you can afford to admit support for.

Oh, but wait, we’re not done. We’ve also got the miscegenation laws from America, and similar taboos and informal laws that have happened throughout history to prevent interracial marriage. Surely if marriage is to remain a consistent, unchanging contract, we should also reinstate the idea that marriage is to be restricted to people of the same race. We wouldn’t want that sort of social progress rubbing off, either. We’ll also ignore the convenient genetic advantages of mixing disparate gene groups. (Which is pretty much what a “race” is. Humans don’t actually have enough genetic variation for distinct breeds the way some other species do.)

Oh, and we’re still not done. We’ll have to abolish marriage as a contract for legal privileges and rights, too, and return it to merely being a declaration of love and a promise of fidelity, like I mentioned earlier.

Oh, and one more thing: Even if all that doesn’t change your mind, there was a limited period of same-sex couples being recognised as married in ancient Rome. Is it really redefining an institution if we’re just reinstituting it in a way the ancients practiced? While this isn’t exactly smoking bullet stuff, it still very much muddies the water on the accuracy of the “redefinition” argument, and perhaps relegates it to more of a dog-whistle for ignorance and contempt of homosexuality than a legitimate contention.

So, while I accept that people can say that marriage equality redefines marriage, and I even accept that they can be ridiculous enough to think that this is a bad thing, I do not accept that they can cherry-pick just gay marriage from the list of times we’ve redefined marriage and then say “Okay, we’re ignoring all those other changes.” If one redefinition is wrong without further justification as to what makes it special, then they’re all wrong.
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