Prop 8: What really matters

by Chap. Mikel Ryuho Monnett, BCC, The Buddhist Channel, Nov 30, 2008

Austin, Texas (USA) -- She was in her late 30s and she was dying. Her partner, herself confined to a wheelchair by her own illnesses, would sit with her every day and hold her hand and read to her.

Sometimes I would come in and find her crying softly, wondering what she was going to do without her soulmate of more than a decade. We would talk for a little while about their relationship and she would share some of the happier memories and tell me about her comatose partner, a young woman who had been cut down by a devastating disease that in its final stages had left her in a coma.

And then all hell broke loose.

As dictated by law, the hospital had notified the patient’s next of kin, who, in the legal sense (gays not being allowed to marry at the time), were the patient’s family. They had not seen the patient in more than 15 years due to the fact they were all fundamentalist Christians who disapproved of her “depraved and sickening” lifestyle (their words to me). Now they descended upon the hospital like a wave of Christian stormtroopers with one mission: to “rescue” the patient before her death.

Since legally they were in charge of who could and couldn’t have access to the patient, they immediately barred her partner from being allowed to see her. At least one member of the family was in the patient’s room or the waiting room at all times to ensure that their edict was carried out, despite appeals from we chaplains and the medical staff.

They would hold loud rituals in the patient’s room in an attempt to “exorcise the demon of homosexuality” from the comatose woman, until we made them stop because they were disturbing the other patients as well as the staff. And they were always trying to convert other people in the hospital to their brand of Christianity, which, they assured everyone, was the only “true” version of Christ’s doctrine (don’t ask what they thought of the others, especially “Papists”).

Appeals to Christ’s mercy or even common human decency having failed to sway the family, her partner had no recourse but to petition the courts. And a sympathetic judge, having found that the patient’s family had cut all ties on their own volition long ago, agreed to appoint her the patient’s guardian. The partner had no problem with the family seeing the patient---after all, they were her flesh and blood---but she would be allowed to see the patient as well. This was anathema to the family, who promptly disappeared as swiftly as they had come. And when the patient finally died a week later, her partner, the nurse, and I were the only ones at her bedside.

If patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels, then morality has to be the last refuge of the bigot. When the Mormon Church attacks the California Supreme Court for "failing to uphold the sanctity of marriage", they conveniently overlook the fact that it is for precisely this purpose---to review laws and edicts in the context of reason and intellectual integrity, far from the heated rhetoric of politicians or the inflammatory emotions of the mob---for which our courts were designed. And that the courts were meant to stand as the last refuge of the oppressed against their oppressors (evidently irony is lost on Mormons).

The issue of civil marriage between individuals of the same sex in the U.S. comes down ultimately to a simple legal premise: does the state have a compelling reason to deny to one set of persons the same rights and obligations that it allows to other persons? The emphasis here is on compelling, because otherwise the Constitution provides for the same rights for all under the equal protection clause. If it is going to treat one set of persons different from another set, the state must prove through a preponderance of evidence that there is a justifiable need to do so.

What is "Prop 8"?
From Wikipedia:



We see this tenet in practice in everyday life. Children below a certain age are not allowed to marry no matter how much they may 'love' each other because most states recognize that adolescent passions are often fleeting and more the results of hormones than true love. People not in full possession of their faculties are similiarly not equipped to make informed decisions about such matters and the courts have ruled that the state has a right to protect them from their own actions. In both cases, the state has presented compelling reasons for the creation of laws governing such actions which have been held by the courts to be reasonable and that withstood the harsh light of the law's scrutiny.

But in the case of gay marriage, the Massachusetts, Connecticut, and California courts found that that was not the case. Given that our culture has an overwhelming interest in the promulgation of persons in committed relationships for the stability of the society as a whole, the state had to prove that they had a reason for singling out a minority within the society for special treatment. And that the state could not do---like the laws against interracial marriage that were still on the books in some states until the late 1960s, the court found that the laws against gay marriage did not hold up under the harsh light of reason. Indeed, such laws, which singled out a group of people solely on the basis of bigotry, were found to lack a just cause. From a legal viewpoint, such laws are immoral because they lead to a corruption of the basic tenet that our country was founded on: that “all men are created equal."

As for the religious viewpoint, our Constitution provides that each creed is free to decide the issue for themselves and that the government may not interfere. Those who find their interpretations of the message of their founders  (Moses, Christ, Mohammed, Buddha or whomever) prohibits these unions are free to bar them from taking place within their houses of worship: those who interpret their traditions otherwise are free to have them in theirs. And while people are free to try and persuade others that their view is the righteous one, so too are others free to persuade them otherwise. They just are not allowed to use the coercive power of the state to impose that belief upon others without compelling and just reasons.

Like the partner of the comatose woman said, “It isn’t a question of gay rights; it’s a question of human rights.”

Chap. Mikel Ryuho Monnett, BCC, is a member of the Peacemaker Community and the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. The incident referred to in the article took place at one of his previous places of employment. He currently lives in Austin, TX. The views reflected are his own.