Sunday, December 4, 2011

'The Absolute Simplicity of This'

"There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind . . . . Orr would be crazy to fly more missions . . . . If he flew them, he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to, he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this  . . . and let out a respectful whistle."
                                                                          - Joseph Heller, "Catch-22"
Michelle Bachmann, explaining civil rights to a group of Iowa high schoolers last week, insisted that gay people "can get married, but they abide by the same law as everyone else. They can marry a man if they're a woman. Or they can marry a woman if they're a man." I, in my turn, was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this and let out a respectful whistle of my own. I'd bet my entire collection of Regis Philbin memorabilia that Michelle Bachmann has never read Catch-22. She just pulled that poser out of her . . . umm, purse.

Henry Ford famously quipped that "Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants, so long as it's black." Mutatis mutandum, the field of GOP candidates (those still standing at any rate) seem to take the Fordean view as it applies to civil rights, and specifically as those rights apply to marriage. In the same vein, it was once the case that any party of the first part could marry any party of the second part of any race or color, so long as the second party was the same color as the first party. As my neighbor Zeno says, leave it to the activists on the Supreme Court to take away our civil rights.

The old red Ford

In defense of her position the irrepressible candidate from Minnesota unlimbered her command of world history and paleoanthropology, insisting further that, "Marriage, historically, for all human history, has been between a man and a woman." In the addled senator's usage, "history" encompasses only the 5,000 years intervening between the Garden of Eden and about 1964, and thus safely ignores the past decade in which 10 countries have recognized the legality of same-sex marriages, or the past 250 milennia (give or take) in which polygamy and polyandry have been common and established social institutions. 

Marriage (as the Founding Fathers intended)
And (as it's further likely Bachmann considers that "history" means "of the Christian West"), it bears notice that (according to a Wikipedia entry) "A same-sex marriage between two men, Pedro Díaz and Muño Vandilaz, in the Galician municipality of Rairiz de Veiga in Spain occurred on April 16, 1061. They were married by a priest at a small chapel." It is not recorded where they spent their honeymoon.

I'm an agnostic when it comes to the institution. I say that being happily married and not intending at all to disparage it. But there are enough marriages being acted out badly in public spaces to provide empirical evidence that it may be a good deal of work and not in every instance a state to be fervently desired. Add to that the multitudinous pitfalls of parenting. 

". . . and I'm adopted!"

Nevertheless I appreciate the principle underlying a growing insistence that all the rights, appurtenances and for-better-or-worses of marriage be equally available to consenting adults in a free and liberally governed nation. Anyone in a rational mind should be moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this.

"Whaddaya say, Norton?"

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