Was a bit late to work today - one of the cats insisted on playing tag with me through the shower curtain. I could've sworn I already talked about this here, but grep says no - my blog is unfortunately at least partly my substitute for social interaction and a handful of the ideas that go through my head - when I express them somewhere, I easily forget where.
An unfortunate set of events accompanying the generally positive presidental election of 2008 was a set of plebiscites in some US states, namely Calfornia, Arizona, and Florida, banning gay marriage. These were all successful, in theory pushing back recent decisions by some courts that not registering gay marriage is a violation of civil rights. While these results are a setback (for people with viewpoints vaguely similar to mine in this area), they're in the light of a general slow migration of society towards acceptance.
40 years ago, a similar controversial court case relating to marriage split society in many of the same ways - Loving v. Virginia pertaining to interracial marriage and the constitutionality of state bans on it, put an end to what is essentially a similar ban to what we have now in many individual states. Near the beginning of the last century there were also similar efforts at nationwide bans on such marriages, with similar fairly broad divides in popular support. Most of the same arguments apply (apart from the religious ones, which require less indirect arguments for prohibiting same-sex marriage than different-race ones, generally).
With any luck, the US Supreme court or some of the state courts will overturn the plebiscites - regardless of the will of the voters, this is a civil rights issue that should stand outside the realm of democratic decision. Equality under the law and nondiscrimination are in this case more important than the institution of democracy.
In the meantime, I hope that long-term committed homosexual partners call themselves married to each other - except to the extent that marriage might be a protected term, there's little harm and much good in calling such things marriages - it both recognises that marriage has traditionally been a pair of institutions with incomplete overlap (cultural/religious and civil) and continues to build the next status quo. Beyond that, the time is now for these struggles and real equality - delaying the struggle for strategic reasons might be permissible for other kinds of issues, but barring things that threaten society's institution itself, basic rights and egality are not things that can or should be delayed.
I also recently was reminded about how I was fairly certain, when speaking with someone I used to know that aimed to be a future US President, that America was not yet ready to consider people who break the mould that much, our society only recently having given blacks and women rights now considered fundamental, and still having issues with those shifts in society not being completely stabilised/accepted. The recent elections make me realise how wrong I was on that front - while there obviously are a fair number of people who hang behind on these issues, it's possible for the mainstream to push past their objections - given that we have a black president-elect with a Roman Catholic VP, and had a republican female VP candidate, I had misjudged the staticisty of our political system, believing that only when generations closer to mine come into their prime would we see the system open up a bit. Of course, the radical increase in new voter numbers helped (which I also did not believe likely).
A quick additional reason the United States needs a nuanced stance towards Israel - while it remains more value-western than its neighbours, we still must consider it a racist state to the extent that the idea of electing a prime minister who is an Arab is considered contrary to the ends of the state rather than practically very difficult - the notion of states that exist to promote a people remains deeply troubling. We should not single out Israel on this fact, just be wary of considering anything like full solidarity with it - the virtual slavery of immigrants in many arab countries, the lesser privileges for non-Han Chinese in China, and many other examples deserve as much focus. Nontheless, full solidarity and friendly relationships should exist most strongly between the United States and countries that in their laws and practices are most in line with our values - when fundamental differences exist (as I believe there are in Israel), we should consider close relations strategic in promoting our values and conditional on some level of movement towards acceptability. Were the presently rare communities of Charedim who have violent "virtue police" to fill Israel, were the extremist settler elements who continue to systematically destroy Palestinian farms to come into the Israeli mainstream, and should the racist Law of Return designed to facilitate Aliyah prove non-amenable to change, ever-greater distance from Israel would be appropriate - the United States and Europe are not wrong to presently have close relations given shared values, but the high stakes they place in Israel license them for continued pressure and conditions on it, and having a level of relations suggesting deeply similar values is problematic. As a concrete example, granting ministries to figures such as Rehavam Ze'evi (whose 2001 asassination I still strongly approve of) should never have been tolerated by Israel's allies, rejected as strongly as if the BNP came to power in Britain.
With Obama's election being a major move against racism and old boys networks in our country (where people were still willing to go on TV saying that they're unhappy about voting for a black man but did it for sake of the economy), I am very concerned for his health - the substance of the blow for a number of people with racist sentiments will land during the first two years of his presidency as people accept that they have a black president. I understand that the FBI has already defused a number of plots that would end up with his death - I hope none make it through - among the more strongly racist elements in our society he's wearing the biggest bulls-eye in the world.
We should take to heart on the gay marriage issue as well as Obama's presidency (albeit on different timescales) how public opinion adapts to new realities - every time a major civil rights accomplishment was made (from the end of slavery to voting rights for women), there was a rapid shift of public approval from nearly 50-50 to deep support within a very short time.