Sunday, March 31, 2013

What's It All About, Alfie?

What’s It All About, Alfie?
P. Schultz
March 31, 2013

            Here are some questions or one question that struck me early today for which I don’t have answers or an answer.

            As a friend of mine pointed out to me, the speed with which the issue of “same sex marriage” has taken on a new dimension or has been propelled in a new direction is quite remarkable. And although there are some holdouts, politicians seem to be almost falling over themselves to express their support for gay and lesbian marriage. And it could be that even the Supreme Court will get in on the act as well, if as some predict they decide to refuse to decide the Proposition 8 case from California, which would mean that the lower court decision overturning the result of Proposition 8 would stand. And also as some predict the Court seems prepared to overturn DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, it could be that our legal landscape regarding gays and lesbians will be markedly different a few months from now.

            Now, while these events are transpiring, I have not seen any analysis about just what is going on. I mean, yes, the legal and social landscape regarding gays and lesbians is changing and, often, this is presented as almost “natural,” just another example of the current of equal rights carrying the American political and social order to its destination. And perhaps this is all that is going on. But I cannot help but ask: What’s it all about? Why now?

            What lies behind my question is the assumption that our political order does not respond to “historical forces” as much as it responds to the decisions of those who hold the power in this order. That is, our political class makes decisions that affect, deeply and invasively, the way we live. Our government is not a barometer that moves as the winds of history make it move as much as it is a tool that the powerful use as they fit and as they believe feasible. Given these assumptions, my question, what’s it all about, arises.

            Another way to pose this question is to ask: Why is now the time that our political class has decided to lay the issue same sex marriage to rest, so to speak? Because once same sex marriage receives the imprimatur of acceptability, then it seems to me that it will be laid to rest, that it will pretty much disappear from our radar screens and recede into the background, much as has interracial marriage. [“What?” you ask. “Why do you even mention interracial marriage?” My point precisely.]

            Or we could ask: Cui bono? Who benefits? Or we could ask: How does our political class benefit? Of course, many want to think that gays and lesbians will benefit and, in terms of social acceptability and legitimacy, that is obviously correct. Whether their relationships will benefit seems to me, at the very least, questionable, given the incidence of divorce and separation, both actual and virtual, among “straight” couples. [Not every “intact” marriage is characterized by bliss or even satisfaction.] But how does our political class benefit, insofar as that class never does anything from which it does not benefit?

            If you sense I am stalling, you are correct. And I am stalling because I am hoping that some burst of light will come to me and I will be able to argue persuasively what it is that can account for this wave of support for same sex marriage. And as you have figured out from reading this paragraph, that has not happened yet.

            Perhaps though this question is difficult to answer because the issue itself is so inconsequential. That is, once this issue is resolved in favor of same sex marriage, the impact on how we live will be minimal at most. As noted above, resolving this issue in favor of same sex marriage will have all the impact that resolving the issue in favor of interracial marriage had on society, which was and is exactly no impact at all as near as I can tell. Or one could say that resolving this issue in favor of same sex marriage will have all the impact that killing bin Laden had; again, meaning no impact at all.

            And at this point another question arises: Why is it that our politics revolves around issues that are, quite often, not really issues of any consequence at all? Ah, now there is a question that is worth thinking about, whereas thinking about same sex marriage is not worth much time and effort. As Kurt Vonnegut might say: “So it goes.” Indeed.

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