Monday, December 22, 2008

The pampering of marriage: "logic" demands equality for gays, social interdependence and "community" confound equality

Mathematical logic, when applied ruthlessly to personal and social issues, can lead us into despair, they say. Or perhaps into unavoidable moral sinks. Even Al Gore pointed this out in his book "The Assault on Reason." It seems that way today as I ponder the equality questions underneath the gay marriage debate even more.

Think what happens when two adults (Okay, usually one man and one woman) get married. They commit themselves not only to fidelity but to retaining a lifelong intimate interest in one another “in sickness and in health” and “until death do us part”. We don’t need to be too explicit about the random calamities than can befall one or both partners of a couple over a lifetime. And, yet, intimacy is to remain.

We can talk about the creative experience of a relationship like this, and there was a lot of talk, as at the Ninth Street Center over the years, about enjoying a permanent relationship for its own sake. But most adults have a feeling that making such a commitment or promise would never be “logical” or “rational” unless rewarded by society. That’s where the social supports and approbation, even pampering (as in those notorious soap operas), of marriage figures in. And it is a matter of “ruthless” logic that some of this support is “paid for” or “subsidized” by those who do not make such commitments. It’s also logical to say eventual divorce of a marriage is even more “unfair” to single people who were “forced” into making such as “subsidy.”

It’s not hard to see that this is one major reason that LGBT people want the right to marry adults of their own choosing with equal access to the “subsidy” of the unmarried. Again, that’s logical.

The critical concept in following the “logic” is lifelong “unconditional” openness to intimacy, not just fidelity. It’s logical that people expect something in return for this, not always, but often, from the outside world. It’s “logical” that one could say everyone (adult) has an opportunity for an arrangement like this with a consenting adult member of the opposite sex – until you get to immutability. Then it’s equally logical to say that everyone has a right to such an arrangement with a consenting adult marital partner regardless of biological gender (but respective of psychological polarity). What about the “birthright” of a child to opposite-gendered married parents? Maybe the right adults of adult significant others as a stable couple (with some social perks) trumps over the automatic assumption of opposite genders. All matters of “logic.”

Then you get into things that just don’t fit so nicely into “logical” paradigms for social justice and equality. The “fact” is, permanent intimate relationships are important not only to raise children but, as is becoming increasingly important because of demographics, take care of the elderly and disabled.

What confounds all of this even more is that human beings vary widely in their own personal need for socialization. (That’s sometimes true of animals, as anyone who has been around pets – particularly cats -- knows.) That’s more than just the truism that there is a big gap between initial “romance” and lifelong interest in intimacy with one person (in either a gay or straight relationship). The initial attraction can keep things going for a long time, until or unless something goes wrong, sometimes beyond one’s control. Then, the partners in almost any relationship consider the delicate matter of balancing the need to be their own independent people with their need for one another. For some people, the need for independence is stronger than in others. Some people do better in life when they are alone a lot, and some people need the social pampering. This may be as much a matter of basic biological wiring as sexual orientation is. It’s obvious that composers or authors, who often work alone, are usually brain-wired differently from sales people, who need the social leads. When a society undergoes economic stress or external challenges, or radical demographic change, people who value their “sovereignty” are finding that others (with more social needs) make demands on them that would have been unthinkable before, and basic moral perspective changes.

Again, think about the “logic”. It sometimes seems as if the social subsidy of marriage seems like a kind of legal and socially approved “prostitution” – it’s a reward and preferential status for those who practice sexual intercourse in societally approved circumstances. Such persons are given the occasional prerogative to make demands on those who don’t practice this. But it’s really not the sexual acts that are generating the preference, or even sexuality itself. It is the openness to making a lifelong emotional commitment (and active promise of intimacy) that “rational self-interest” alone often seems “illogical” for the individual but necessary for society as a whole. And, for reasons of biological wiring, it’s more “illogical” for some than for others, and some persons may feel put upon as a result, by the na├»ve social demands of others. (Look up “schizoid personality” on Wikipedia and follow some links.)

We value independence and self-starting in our culture, as modern virtues. But we’re also finding that interdependence is necessary, too. It seems that all these moral values do have their flip sides. Lately, "they" have been calling this as the necessary imbalance of "living in a community."

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