Wednesday, May 27, 2009


This morning my husband and I were talking about the CA supreme court's decision yesterday to uphold the legal status of marriage as a union between a man and a woman. And then the topic shifted to gay marriage more generally.

We both agree that gay marriage should be legal as marriage between a man and a woman is legal, but for slightly different reasons. His philosophy is that a plethora of issues should be legal unless there's a compelling reason for them not to be. Thus, since he can't see how letting two men or two women marry would hurt society, he is not opposed to gay marriage. In contrast, he would be opposed to marriage between adults and children, because there's a compelling argument that such an arrangement would cause undue harm to the children in question. For me, it's about equality; if I get the right to marry the person of my choosing (who happens to be straight), then I believe everyone else should get the right to marry the person of their choosing. Our arguments are very similar, and obviously come to the same conclusion. Additionally, I don't think either of our arguments are necessarily tied directly to the issue of gay marriage. For my husband, if actions are not hurting society, then they should be legal (whatever those actions are); for me, if I'm legally allowed to do something (whatever that something is), then others should also have the right.

I think opponents of gay marriage are also seeing a larger picture behind this particular issue. Their arguments may revolve around the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman, but the driving force of such sentiment is about god's will. So again, the particular issue doesn't matter (it could be gay marriage, abortion, etc.), but whether the outcome fits within god's will does.

As someone who grew up in California, and attended a fundamentalist Christian school for two years while I lived there, I am not surprised that there is so much disagreement about gay rights in the state. Not all Californians are the same. There's extremely liberal regions in CA, and extremely conservative regions. It's a huge state, and there's bound to be severe disagreements.

What strikes me as more interesting than debates within CA are the three states where gay marriage has been legalized: Maine, Vermont, and Iowa (please correct me if my information is incomplete). We're not talking about states with large urban centers (traditional hotbeds of liberalism)...we're talking about states with large rural populations. So what is going on here?

My first response was to claim something about the culture of the Northeast (where quite a few other states have given legal rights to same-sex civil unions). Perhaps the ideals of two important religious traditions in the Northeast (Quakerism and Unitarian Universalism) supporting equal rights for all people have infused the general culture to a great enough extent that the populations are willing to push for equal marriage rights. But this leaves me not understanding Iowa. I confess I haven't spent much time in the Midwest, but I was somewhat shocked when Iowa legalized gay marriage. Is there a similar tradition (perhaps based on religion, or otherwise) of equal rights in Iowa? Or is Iowa the outlier to the pattern we've seen in the Northeast (and to a limited extent in the Northwest)? What do you think?


Anonymous said...

From my understanding Iowa has a pretty large lesbian population, so that could be a factor. However, Iowa has also been fairly progressive in other areas as well- for example, equal access to education. Goldin and Katz (two economists) go into quite a bit of detail about Iowa if you're interested:

Sorry for the late post, but I just came across your post and thought it was really interesting!

Practicing Idealist said...

Anne - thank you for your comment!

I really like the connection you made to Iowa and education (I'm thinking Iowa test of basic skills that I remember being required to take).

So Iowa seems to be quite a progressive states in several domains, which still makes me wonder why, and why states would be progressive in the first place. Perhaps it has something to do with historical and current immigrant populations infusing diversity into the culture? I don't know. It's an interesting question.