Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Same-Sex Marriage: A "Reality" Now in Oregon

According to a news report from the Associated Press, a judge in Oregon has, at least for the moment, legalized same-sex marriages, even while ordering that no new licenses be issued to same-sex applicants. The decision by Multnomah County Circuit Judge Frank Bearden will be appealed; but for the moment, his order that the state recognize the 3,022 licenses issued in March and April as being valid effectively makes same-sex marriage a reality -- at least, in Oregon. The judge has also given the Oregon Legislature ninety days from the start of its next session to change state law regarding the issue of same-sex marriages.

The article is silent as to how, exactly, Judge Bearden intends the Legislature to address the issue. The article does mention a closely related scenario in Massachusetts, where the Legislature has been ordered by the courts to change the marriage laws so as not to "discriminate against" same-sex unions. We can probably conclude that the directive to the Oregon Legislature is of a similar intention.

According to reports published earlier, the Massachusetts Legislature is, on the one hand, attempting to comply with what the court has ordered, while at the same time being responsible to the electorate which has empowered them; an electorate who, by a significant majority, are not in favor of the legalization of same-sex unions as marriages. I haven't seen similar polling data from Oregon; but I don't expect to see anything different there -- that is, I'd bet that the opinion of a majority of voters in Oregon does not desire the legalization of same-sex unions as marriages, nor supports such a change in Oregon state law. But judicial activism on this issue -- which began a number of years ago in Hawaii, remember, before affecting Vermont and Massachusetts -- shows no signs of going away.

Quite apart from the religious stance on this issue (and I've said enough in earlier blogs!), is there any reason -- from the point of view of the Christian faith -- to be concerned about this wave of judicial activism, and changes ordered to state law without the support of the electorate? You tell me: Is there any reason to be concerned about the breaking down of the way in which we are governed? (Yes!) Is there any reason to be concerned about the way in which the institutions of our society are being transformed? (Yes!)

I dunno... Maybe it's nothing more than coming down from the chocolate-induced euphoria of Bright Week that is giving rise to a most pessimistic point of view... Maybe it's nothing more than having more time than I know what to do with available to sit at a keyboard and ruminate, after several weeks of long and involved services... Does anybody remember a scene from an old (and I do mean old -- "The Original Series" old) episode of Star Trek, in which Mr. Spock and Harry Mudd are discussing the punishments to which Mr. Mudd is liable for crimes he committed on a particular planet? Spock is reciting the list: "Death by hanging; death by drowning; death by electrocution; death by phasers..." Mudd interrupts him to make the point that, particulars aside, all have the same theme, and the same end: death. (OK, I hear you: get to the point, Fr. John!)

If I strike you on the head with an ax, you're dead. If I cut your throat, you're dead. The so-called "death of a thousand paper cuts" takes much longer, but, in common with the first two, the end is the same: death. If we were to leap full-blown into the "brave new world" to which it seems we are heading, the change would be so abrupt that we would reject it. But by taking small, almost unnoticeable steps in that direction, we will arrive, almost without objection, by an incremental process in the same place that, had we made the journey suddenly, we would not accept. Pessimistic curmudgeon that I am (or am becoming), I think that's going to happen -- but it is my duty to be, among other things, one of the watchmen on the wall, who must sound their trumpets in warning, or risk being condemned for complicity in the destruction of the people entrusted to their care. If you like where we're going, folks, fine -- you don't need to do anything. If you'd rather wind up somewhere else, it's time to act: it is truly later than we think...