The Controversies about the Same-Sex Marriage

Ideas about family and marriage have changed enormously in the Western Societies at least since the 18th Century, from extended families to nuclear families, to single-parent families, inter-racial families, and a wide range of different types and sub-types of familial organizations. Some of these changes are directly related with macro-changes among the Western societies, such as the spread of capitalism, the growth of individualism as a legitimated (and encouraged) way of life, and the discovery of new medical technologies that have been helping people live much more years than before, and also to help them to plan how, when, why and in which circumstances to have children. A second factor that also plays an important role in this matter was the emergence of several social movements claiming women's liberation from domestic work and sexism, trying to guarantee them the right to drive their lives following only their own wishes and needs.

In spite of the visibility of those changes over the years, many people seem to be blind to them and have blamed another kind of family for the fall of these traditional families. According to them, gay couples are destroying a certain traditional structure that is the ground of our society. For the opponents of gay marriage, the primarily reason for the existence of a family is to raise children, and gay couples are not able to satisfy this purpose. Some opponents are even more conservative in this aspect, since they affirm that gay parents can be dangerous to children.

Taking these arguments seriously, my objective here is to demonstrate that the critics of same-sex unions are engaged in making us believe that it is a moral issue, while I am strongly convinced that, in fact, this is a political issue, talking about who are and who aren’t citizens in our societies.

Above all, this matter is essentially about the social, civil and legal recognition of an equal treatment for LGBT (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Transgender) people conducting their lives as they want, having the same privileges and rights that a typical heterosexual has under the auspices of the state, regardless of sexual orientation.

However, most of the opponents of the guarantee of the gays civil rights are trying to lead this debate into a complex, confusing and somewhat religious discussion where a pretense gay lifestyle threatens the traditional institution of marriage. Come from these critics arguments that portray the LGBT people as being immoral, promiscuous, unable to love with attachment, incompetents to raising children, among many others.

Unfortunately, these misunderstandings about what homosexuality is in fact and the hundreds of arguments based on it spread as a plague in the society, especially through the mass media and religious comments, reinforcing prejudices and stereotypes that contribute to impede a neutral and open debate in the public sphere.

Because of this, it's possible to comprehend why, according to a survey released by Princeton Survey Research Associates International in March 12-16, 2009, more than half of all people in the United States oppose gay marriage (55% according the survey), although three fourths are otherwise supportive of gay rights. This paradox means that many of the same people who support gay rights in general oppose gays when the issue is get married and recognition by the law.

Once again, it’s important to emphasize the political effects involved in this moral approach. When the United States of America, for example, denies the right of getting married for same-sex couples, the state is also denying them about 1049 rights that are given for couples legally married. For instance, a wife or a husband that contributes to a pension is allowed to receive a monthly amount in case of the partner's death, but gay couples are not. Contrary to what occurs with legally married couples, homosexuals who live together cannot inherit property from a partner without a will. And even when they inherit they have to pay a transmission tax, of which the widows are exempt.

Change it takes work, but as a well-known campaign’s slogan says: change, we can believe in. Thus, an important work to be made is to bring the LGBT struggles into the side of the civil rights, to show that the improvement and the equalization of rights goes hand in hand with a new process of democratization that is compromised with the respect of the differences. It does not mean that a consensus is required about this matter, but, on the other hand, it’s unconstitutional, unfair and unethical to bar someone to access rights only because she or he isn’t a mainstream member. The right of being different cannot mean receiving an uneven treatment by the state.

The same United States that now promotes an amazing reflection about the possibility of splitting its citizens by their sexual orientation was faced, 50 years ago, with a similar dilemma concerning African-American civil rights. At the time, inter-racial marriages where prohibit in many states, public places and schools were segregated, and in addition, for many white people it was natural to think that the African-Americans should be treated as second-class citizens. At the time also, moral arguments against the desegregation and the equalization of rights were common, but things changed and the idea that all men are created equal won. The Civil Rights Movement opened the doors for many other movements the came later, such as the Feminist Movement, the Latinos Movement, and the LGBT Movement, that helped America become more and more democratic.

Regarding same-sex marriage, the struggle has just begun, but there are no reasons to celebrate yet. Since Netherlands, in 2001, became the first country to offer full marriage civil rights to same-sex couples, things have changed a little bit. After Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, and Sweden allowed gay married with exactly the same rights of an opposite-sex marriage, and about 16 other countries have specific jurisdictions that allow civil unions of gays.

In the United States the gay marriage issue seems to be a complex process of give and take. Currently, Iowa, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut are states that allow civil unions of same-sex couples, while California had a brief period of liberalization in 2008, which was banned with the approval of the Preposition 8. Some states also passed constitutional amendments barring the possibility of same-sex marriage, and others places, such as New York, recognize same marriage performed in other places.

Unfortunately, the United States isn’t the only country where the same-sex marriage is an issue. The power of the moral disagreements seems to be more effective than an open-minded discussion about the necessity of taking this question as a central political-cultural dilemma of our time. However, the change is possible, but isn’t easy and must be a political change conducted by collective actions that show us that in a pluralistic society, ensuring equal civil rights is the most important thing to do to preserve diversity and democracy.

Who ensures that the history
It’s an abandoned carthorse
In a side-road
Or in a inglorious station
The history is a happy car
Full of happy people
Running over, indifferent
Those that denies the history
(Pablo MIlanes and Chico Buarque de Holanda)


The exile has its own flag

A couple of days ago while I surfed in Kibe’s blog I read this sentence above, an excerpt of a song from a Somalian rapper based in Canada. Then, I decided to take this opportunity to reflect a little about the condition of foreigners here in the United States.

Obviously I am not an exile, at least not in the classical meaning of the word, but a guy who by his own initiative decided to venture far for a while from his country. I always experienced a feeling of strangeness in Brazil, but not for the same reasons that I perceive here. There, my feeling of strangeness was more connected with the fact of being black in a certain process of social mobility that included, at the same time, the loss of a place of origin and the uncertainty of being accepted in a particular place of arrival.

The difference between my position as “foreigner” in Brazil and my position of foreigner in the United States is that over there I was inserted in the sociability of the ordinary people, able to anticipate the rules and subvert them or ratify them as soon as the situation demanded or allowed. Here I am abroad, previous to the existence of a reflexivity and without fully sharing the social norms.

I live under my skin what Simmel theorized about the ambiguity of the condition of foreigners, as being those who move between the indifference and the involvement. That is, I am both part of the sociability of this place and the opposite of that same sociability.

Almost everyone assumes as a first impression that I'm American, but only until the moment that it becomes clear, either through the accent, the gestures, and the way of walking that I'm not. It is interesting to note how this possibility of "passing" and the condition of traveler organize my interactions in the U.S. I don’t need to live the dilemmas of assimilation versus maintenance of identities that the permanent residents living, but, on the other hand, I cannot escape from them. Once more, as Simmel suggests, I live the condition of a foreigner more from the point of view of a certain positivity and creativity than from the point of view of being transferred to a different culture.

Although my foreign eyes ensure me more objectivity they also put me in front of a sphinx to be deciphered. When I look for both sides of the sociability (the side I share and the side I don’t) I feel myself increasingly near to the flag of the exile, in a kind of psychoanalytic axiom, since I only belong where I don’t belong, and even if I decipher the sphinx she will devour me.

Perhaps everybody has a garden of Eden, I don't know; but they have scarcely seen their garden before they see the flaming sword. Then, perhaps, life only offers the choice of remembering the garden or forgetting it. Either, or: it takes strength to forget, it takes a hero to do both. People who remember court madness through pain, the pain of the perpetually recurring death if their innocence; people who forget court another kind of madness, the madness of the denial of pain and the hatred of innocence; and the world is mostly divided between madmen who remember and madmen who forget. Heroes are rare.
(James Baldwin, Giovanni`s Room)

How to know if you're really in San Francisco

1. You take a bus and are shocked that two people are carrying on a conversation in English.
2. Someone says TENDERLOIN and you don't think of steak.
3. You never bother looking at the MUNI line schedule because you know the drivers have never seen it.
4. A really great parking space can move you to tears.
5. You know that anyone wearing shorts in July must be visiting from Ohio.
6. You assume every company offers domestic partner benefits.
7. Your boss runs in "The Bay to Breakers"....and it's not the first time you have seen him/her nude.
8. You are thinking of taking an adult class but you can't decide between yoga, aroma therapy, conversational mandarin, or a building your own website class.
9. You haven't been to Fisherman's Wharf since the first month you moved to San Francisco, and you couldn't figure out how to drive to Coit Tower if your life depended on it.
10. You were born somewhere else.
11. Left is right and right is wrong.
12. Your monthly house payments exceed your annual income.
13. You dive under a desk whenever a large truck goes by.
14. You can't find your other earring because your son is wearing it.
15. Your family tree contains "significant others."
16. Your cat has its own psychiatrist.
17. Smoking in your office is not optional.
18. You pack shorts and a T-shirt for skiing in the snow, and a sweater and a wetsuit for the beach.
19. Rainstorms or thunder are the lead story for the local news.
20. A person enters the bus in full leather regalia and crotchless chaps. You don't even notice.
21. Your car insurance costs as much as your house payment.
22. You give a "thumbs up" gesture to a car with a "Free Tibet" bumper sticker--and you mean it.
23. When you drive under an underpass, for one moment you think "earthquake."
24. You realize the only Republicans you know are your aunt and uncle in Texas.
25. You realize there are far more rainbow flags in the city than California state flags.
26. You go to your office manager's baby shower and the parents are named Judy and Becky.
27. Your church elects a new bishop who abandoned his family and two young daughters to fulfill his sexual urges with another man.

(withdrawal from the facebook).


If you're going to San Francisco
Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair
If you're going to San Francisco
You're gonna meet some gentle people there

For those who come to San Francisco
Summertime will be a love-in there
In the streets of San Francisco
Gentle people with flowers in their hair

All across the nation such a strange vibration
People in motion
There's a whole generation with a new explanation
People in motion people in motion

For those who come to San Francisco
Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair
If you come to San Francisco
Summertime will be a love-in there

If you come to San Francisco
Summertime will be a love-in there

Travel Companion

Elizabeth Bishop is one of my favorite poets ever. Her concise written, made with a few, simple, and almost crude words have the ability of let me amazed.

Her poems are the remedy for my moments of academic written. Was reading her book of letters, between one and another chapter of my dissertation, that I could finish my master degree. When I read "Rare and Commonplace Flowers", book that tells the love story lived between Bishop and Lota de Macedo Soares I discovered the beauties of living in Rio de Janeiro. Now, in San Francisco, I found a book with her complete poems that I want to read as a Christian who reads the Bible. For those who didn’t know Elizabeth Bishop I transcribe below my favorite poem from her.

One Art

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

- Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Elizabeth Bishop

About Politics and Sexuality

“I am not a candidate. I am part of a movement. The movement is the candidate”. This was the first of many phrases that touched me last Saturday while I watched Milk (a movie directed by Gus Van Sant) here at the Castro Theater in San Francisco.

The movie, starred by Sean Pean, is about the true story of Harvey Milk, a neighborhood activist elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977 and murdered, along with the city’s mayor, George Moscone, by a former supervisor named Dan White in 1978. Milk was the first politician openly gay elected in the country. His election and activism had a profound impact on national politics, and his rich afterlife in American culture has affirmed his status as pioneer and martyr.

At the beginning, Harvey Milk was just a guy wanting to open a photo store at Castro Street, the center of a decadent neighborhood of the city that time. Milk was discouraged to open his store there, but started to realize that he was able to resist the threats and became one of the few leaders of a movement that, in little time, turned Castro into the epicenter in the struggle for the civil rights of homosexuals.

The main fight captained by Milk was against the preposition 6, proposed by Senator John Briggs, whose intention were the expulsion of gay teachers from the public schools in the United States. Milk played an important role to defeat the proposal and was strengthened in the political landscape of California then.

The greatest achievement of the film, in my view, is the ability to present clearly and convincingly what is the central objective of all of us that are militant and / or work with social movements, that is, the ability of to demonstrate that is impossible to think in process of democratization of the society without the inclusion of the minorities discriminated against.

Despite a degree of sobriety and distances from the characters that the movie portrays, it’s evident that we are talking about a militant perspective. It is clear the importance of the collective actions to lead us into the social changes and to the self-determination.

Thus, for all of us that, currently, are proud of our relative freedom, here in San Francisco or anywhere else in the world, we are in debt to figures such as Milk, who gave up their egoism looking for the guarantee of social rights that they themselves did not had the opportunity to enjoy fully.

Another strong point of the film is its ability to not be a dated work, completely closed in the moment portrayed. The trajectory of a movement that emerged 30 years ago is unfinished, since there are many barriers to overcome until the point where, perhaps, political and sexual themes are no longer interconnected.