Saturday, June 29, 2013
Marriage equality as a matter of principle
As I see it, people's outlook on life is positioned on a spectrum between two poles. At one end there are universal values, derived from feeling empathy with other human beings and considering everyone equal. People with these values consider things like slavery, racism, and discrimination against individuals or groups to be evil. They believe everyone should be treated the same way.
At the other pole are group-specific (often religious) values held by people who consider their own group and way of life to be somehow superior to other individuals and groups, and who identify closely only with people similar to themselves. Their values tend to be derived from the group's traditions, and are sometimes based on the way society was understood in the past.
When someone makes a statement about what is or is not acceptable, we can always ask why. So when someone says "marriage is between one man and one woman", we can ask why they think that is the case. The answer will often come down to the idea that marriage involves having children. However, not all marriages result in children, not all children result from marriages, and same-sex couples can use medical advances to have children of their own, or adopt children, if they wish to do so. So this explanation makes no sense.
If people with this position are more honest, they might say that they are just uncomfortable with the idea of people who are so different from them. However, feeling uncomfortable does not justify discriminating against people. By wishing to be married, same-sex couples are demonstrating that they are actually similar to the majority and want to have a normative lifestyle.
Here in Israel we are very far from having marriage equality, even for heterosexual couples, let alone same-sex couples. Most people don't like to admit it, but in matters of marriage Israel is a theocracy. Couples can only get married in a religious ceremony, and this means that couples who do not want a religious ceremony or are of two different religious backgrounds cannot get married. Among Jews, only Orthodox marriages are legally recognized, and there are certain limitations on who can marry whom (for example, someone descended from the priest class cannot marry a divorcee or a convert).
Israel recognizes legal marriages, including civil marriages and same-sex marriages, from other countries. As a result, couples who are denied the right to marry in Israel often go abroad to get married. Other couples draw up a legal agreement that is almost, but not quite, equivalent to marriage.
Over the years there have been several attempts to introduce civil marriage in Israel, but there is a great deal of resistance and opposition from religious and traditional groups.
I believe that applying the universal value of equality for all requires countries to allow civil marriage for any adult couple regardless of gender or religious or ethnic background. Religious people are free to continue holding their religious ceremonies, but should not force their values on others who do not share them.