Monday, January 25, 2010

Shmuley Boteach tells his fellow social conservatives to cut the crap on the so-called "defense of marriage"

The campaign against same-sex marriage in the US has been ideologically framed by its proponents as a struggle for the "defense of marriage"--exemplified by the federal "Defense of Marriage Act" and the 2008 referendum on Proposition 8 in California, which billed itself the "California Marriage Protection Act". But there's something bizarre about this "defense of marriage" sloganeering, since (as far as I know) no one has offered any plausible argument explaining how or why allowing homosexual marriage would undermine heterosexual marriages or threaten heterosexual marriage as an institution. People might have other reasons to oppose gay marriage (including, let's be frank, straightforward homophobic bigotry, though that's not the only possible reason). But the claim that this is a matter of protecting heterosexual marriage falls somewhere between mentally lazy confusion and fraudulent propaganda.

All this is an open secret, but it's clear that the transparent absurdity of this claim is not obvious to everyone. Why this might be so is a topic for a longer discussion. But I suspect that for many people who accept the notion that opposing gay marriage is somehow a way to protect heterosexual marriage, criticisms of this sloganeering are most likely to be effective if they come from serious, religiously grounded social conservatives.

That's why I was pleased to run across a recent column (below) by Shmuley Boteach, the interesting and generally admirable Orthodox/Chasidic rabbi-without-a-synagogue, author, and cultural commentator, who has consistently been willing to address this issue head-on. Those of you who read the whole column may agree or disagree with some parts of his discussion more than others. To be honest, some bits strike me as dubious, problematic, and/or in need of clarification. But I commend this passage, which cuts through to the heart of the matter in a clear, cogent, and unambiguous way:
Whatever your views on gay marriage - whether you are a supporter who believes that gays should have the same rights as heterosexuals or whether you are more religiously inclined and object to gay marriage on biblical grounds - one things is for sure: This has absolutely nothing to do with rescuing the institution of marriage.
Instead, those who believe that the institution of marriage is under threat, and that this is a serious problem, need to get real:
We straight people don't need help from gays in destroying marriage, having a done an admirable job of it ourselves, thank you very much. And the reason that marriages continue to decline in the United States is that rather than discussing how we can shore up this most vital of all social institutions, we have instead chosen to focus on a convenient scapegoat: gays. [....]
I assume that last sentence was carelessly written, since this is obviously not the reason.

But it's certainly true that if people really are worried about protecting or strengthening the institution of marriage, for them to focus on gay-bashing is a distraction from actually addressing the difficult issues--in addition to being being pernicious and unfair in itself. Instead, as Boteach correctly suggests, any serious and honest discussion of these matters from a socially conservative perspective should focus much more strongly on the pervasive effects of a mainstream culture that too often exalts selfish individualism and material success above all other values. Amen.

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub

==============================
Jerusalem Post
January 18, 2010
Focus on marital decline, not homosexuality
By Shmuley Boteach

The Jewish community in the United States has an opportunity to lead the country in a true values renewal by shifting the focus away from the country's obsession over gay marriage and onto marital decline and divorce.

Whatever your views on gay marriage - whether you are a supporter who believes that gays should have the same rights as heterosexuals or whether you are more religiously inclined and object to gay marriage on biblical grounds - one things is for sure: This has absolutely nothing to do with rescuing the institution of marriage.

We straight people don't need help from gays in destroying marriage, having a done an admirable job of it ourselves, thank you very much. And the reason that marriages continue to decline in the United States is that rather than discussing how we can shore up this most vital of all social institutions, we have instead chosen to focus on a convenient scapegoat: gays.

The facts are straightforward. Not even 10 percent of the American population is gay, but more than 50% of all marriages end in divorce. And this was happening years before gays came out in significant numbers, let alone demanded the right to marry. In fact, the only men who seem to still want to get married in America are gays. While they are petitioning the Supreme Court to tie the knot, the straight guys are breaking into a rash and running to the hills every time their live-in girlfriends of five years push for a ring on their finger.

The real cause of marital breakdown in our time is the redefinition of success to encompass only the professional and almost never the personal sphere. We Americans are an ambitious lot. We want to succeed in everything we do. What we fear most in this country is being a failure, a loser. But being a winner has come to mean having money, power and being famous.

In Hollywood, you can be on your fourth marriage and have all your kids in rehab. But so long as people are still paying 10 bucks to see your movies, you're a success. On Wall Street, you can be a 30-something trader who takes the American taxpayer to the cleaners and pursues a life of endless womanizing, all fueled by gargantuan, government facilitated bonuses. But as long as you still drive a Ferrari and live in that $25 million Hampton estate, you'll be invited to every cocktail party around.

Who then has a real incentive to be a good man? We are all encouraged today to have a career rather than a calling, a focus on our own ambition rather than a cultivation of gifts for the benefit of others. And success is defined not by quality of your relationships but by the quantity in your bank accounts.

Marital decay these days begins with the easy hook-up culture of teen-hood where young people are trained to see the opposite sex as a commodity to be exploited. It reaches dizzying heights with the positively rancid culture of male womanizing and female drunkenness that has become so common on the American university campus.

In essence young men and women learn how to master business and how to write a legal brief. But the only thing they learn about selfless love is that it is subordinate to selfish sexual pleasure and is an old-fashioned idea strangely out of place in a culture where you are always number one.

Is it really surprising, then, that the youth have delayed marriage well into their 30s and even then marry only when forced to "settle down." They see nothing exciting in the domestication of marriage or the energy it takes to raise children. And living in a disposable society, as soon as marriage hits a snag or two, it is so much easier to discard the institution than work to save the relationship.

Donald Trump summed it up best when he said of his current marriage that it's happy because, unlike his previous attempts, this one requires no work. The poor man works at the office, where the real success is found. Why would he want to work at home? And who says that any woman is worth the effort?

Now, are we really going to blame all this rot on gays? And if we stopped gay men and women from even having civil unions, would the astronomical American divorce rate suddenly drop?

Here is where Jewish values and a Jewish voice can come to the rescue. As many of our Christian evangelical brothers and sisters have largely led the California effort on behalf of Proposition 8 and have, for 20 years, identified opposition to gay marriage as the foremost American family value, how many rabbis - even the most Orthodox - have followed suit? How many Jewish leaders have given sermons saying that gays, rather than divorce, are the real culprit behind the disintegration of the American family?

While the Torah's teachings on homosexuality are clear, the Jewish community has wisely told gay men and women to come to synagogue, keep a kosher home, honor the Sabbath, affix a mezuza and come to classes on Judaism as clear equals to everyone else. Even if we cannot agree with the lifestyle choices of every member of our community, we do not make this a laser-like focus to the exclusion of overall Jewish responsibility, inclusion and commitment.

My parents divorced when I was eight. I feel the pain of every divorced man and woman which Judaism, unlike Catholicism, allows because, though we always try to save a marriage, the institution is not a prison. I know that the men and women who divorce are good people, loving parents, and would have wished the marriage to have continued. But they are immersed in a culture where the lie of professional achievement as more important than personal success is beamed at them from every broadcast medium 24 hours a day.

But more than the parents, my heart goes out to children of divorce who are deeply affected by the turbulence of two parents who no longer love each other. And if we really cared about the American family, we would cease talking about gays and instead push a measure through Congress making marital counseling tax-deductible so that families who are hard-pressed can get the help they need to try to keep the family intact.

I run an organization devoted entirely toward the dissemination of Jewish values in the culture. You can assist us by signing up for our "Turn Friday Night Family Night" campaign (www.fridayisfamily.com) and by getting in touch to offer your support (www.thisworld.us). Together we can show our children that love is not fiction but something tangible and real.

The writer is the author of more than 20 books on relationships, the most recent being The Kosher Sutra, which has just been released by HarperOne in paperback. www.shmuley.com

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