Wednesday, March 5, 2014

What Does Congressman Doug LaMalfa Have in Common with Robert Mugabe?

Fellow blogger from the Redding Record Searchlight, Marc Beauchamp pointed out that North State Congressman Doug LaMalfa has been waxing philosophical to NationalJournal.com about same-sex marriage.  It’s always best to brace yourself when LaMalfa flexes his under-used grey cells—they’re normally on loan to Grover Norquist and the Koch Empire—and this was no exception. 


Beauchamp quotes the following selections from LaMalfa’s diatribe: “If you open the floodgates to other ideas [about marriage], other concepts, you don’t know where it ends.  Multiple marriages, same-sex marriage, there’s so many things that are not what the institution is supposed to be about.  Indeed, an institution created by God and supposed to be held up and respected by men.  And women.

“Your mate is your rock.  Your support.  When you’re in a role like this or whatever it is, it didn’t have to be like this, it could be any job.  Or what she’s doing at home, what your spouse at home, taking care of family and kids and all that.  You being a rock for them too.  It’s that partnership which is what marriage is, it was perfectly designed by God.  It’s the part where mankind gets involved where things can get a little messy.  And so through prayer, through sticking to it, the institution of marriage is one that is a rock”.

Marriage might be a rock, but LaMalfa appears to have just crawled out from beneath one.  His mangled verbiage aside, the inarticulate Congressman is under some misapprehensions that need to be corrected.

Marriage was not designed by some deity.  It is a social and legal institution which has taken different forms in different societies over time.  Each society redefines marriage according to its needs and norms.  Today, many Christians are much more tolerant of same sex marriage than has been the case in the past, but Christian bigots like LaMalfa remain.  Such people are fond of talking about the importance of “traditional marriage”.

But let’s remember, that in culture as well as law, for much of Christian Europe’s history, marriage was a system through which women were exchanged as something resembling property, carrying little in the way of rights with them.  They were moved around like pawns as families made alliances and solidified connections.  Many marriages—just think about European kingdoms for centuries—were about property transfer, the construction of kingdoms, and diplomatic alliances.  They had nothing to do with love, respect, or being a “rock”.  Mankind has always been involved in defining marriage.  The Bible, after all, is a human-constructed text, which emerged from a particular historical context and has been used by elites to promote their interests over time.

If marriage is about a partnership, I’m not sure why we should be afraid of people of the same sex making a partnership.  Perhaps LaMalfa can explain why, although he is supposedly a fan of the universal civil rights built over time into our political system, he is prepared to deny some people those rights.

If he struggles to explain that, he could turn to a cultural and religious fellow-traveller who is never lost for words and remains far more articulate LaMalfa—if also more casually hateful—despite his ninety years.  Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe shares LaMalfa’s dismay at the idea that two people of the same sex could make a partnership.  “The human right you have as a man is to marry another woman, not to get another man to marry”, Mugabe recently proclaimed.  

Mugabe regularly rants about same sex rights as “unnatural”, a view that should endear him to the likes of LaMalfa.  Both are using this reactionary strain to distract from serious problems in Zimbabwe and the United States.  In Mugabe’s case, he doesn’t want to talk about his abuse of democracy, the wreckage of the Zimbabwean economy, or the dangerous question of succession.

In LaMalfa’s case, spouting ahistorical, bigoted nonsense about marriage allows him a respite from discussing the work his and his fundamentalist colleagues have done in dismantling institutions designed to help and support his constituents, and the fact that he and his party serve our nation’s 1% rather than his struggling constituents.. 

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