The Gospel According to Jerry

The slipperiest slope at Wolf Laurel may be the one the management people are sliding down in dismissing the two women who openly announced their marriage in the local paper.

This poses several interesting questions. If their computer or their ski lift broke down and they discovered that the person who showed up to make repairs was gay, would they send them away? Or what would they do if, God forbid, they or their child were injured in a terrible accident and the emergency medical person who showed up said, “I can save your life if we act immediately — but I want you to know that I am a homosexual”?

From all I read, Asheville and Western North Carolina have a much higher percentage of gay and lesbian people than most places in the United States.

They are attracted to Asheville because our major industries — tourism, medical care and the arts — draw from a creative and talented pool of employees and often offer a more accepting professional climate than those found in more traditional cities. Our excellence in these fields must be attributed to our all-inclusive policies.

I wish I could use that old tolerance-demonstrating cliche, “Some of my best friends are gay,” but actually I know very few gay people.

I understand that some of the most successful members of my high-school class were gay, but in my day, coming out of the closet would not only destroy one’s career — it could be life-threatening.

I admit that I am uncomfortable watching two men publicly displaying affection, but I am also uncomfortable with rap music, facial piercing and large tattoos. I suspect this is a generational thing, but I have learned to accept these phenomena as the personal rights of others.

The genesis of the religious objection to homosexual practice came from the ancient Hebrews. They were a small sect of people whose ranks were constantly decimated by warring tribes. The only way they could survive was to be very fruitful and multiply. They therefore made the wasting of the seed a cardinal sin. By definition, this includes oral sex, anal sex, bestiality, contraception and even masturbation, all of which are equally heinous. (It occurs to me that if everyone who has ever masturbated had to wear a scarlet “M” on his or her back, it would look like almost the entire population of this country were cheerleaders for the University of Maryland.)

To this day, it is not uncommon for many Orthodox Jewish families to have eight or 10 kids. The Christian religions picked up on this thinking — “Hey, the larger the flock, the more powerful the Shepherd” — and included it in their doctrine.

Since religious people dominate our country’s politics, our laws have created a privileged class called “married couples,” who are granted all sorts of legal rights not afforded to single people. These include but are not limited to tax breaks, health insurance, adoption and, in some states, cohabitation.

The family-values folks want to define “traditional marriage” as the union of one man and one woman. Throughout most of human history, however, tradition deemed polygamy totally acceptable; it was legal among the Mormons in this country until recent times, and it’s still practiced today in other parts of the world.

Is it any wonder that those who don’t fall under the classification of “traditional couples” clamor for the same rights?

Certainly religious organizations have every right to deny a religious ceremony and blessing to those who do not meet their conditions of observance, but they cannot deny equal rights under the law.

Heterosexual couples are not stigmatized when they’re married by a justice of the peace, a sea captain or even Elvis Presley in a Las Vegas wedding chapel.

The issue centers on the assumption that these nontraditional marriages are all about sex. But we really have no way of knowing whether sex takes place between the members of any couple — heterosexual or gay — or whether either group engages in any of the forbidden practices. So instead of calling nontraditional unions “same-sex marriages,” I suggest we call them “same-gender marriages.” This would permit much more equity under the law.

For instance: If two heterosexual widowers with no children and no heirs who had been lifelong friends decided that they wanted to get married in order to take advantage of the spousal health-insurance coverage offered by one man’s employer, they could do so. If they wanted to buy a house together, it would go to the survivor tax-free. And if they wanted to take advantage of the 50 percent estate-tax exclusion or to have the legal right to manage the other person’s health-care and life-or-death decisions if he were incapacitated, would that pass the smell test?

Suppose that a wealthy but invalid woman who had no heirs and had been lovingly cared for for years by her departed sister’s adopted child wanted to marry this woman in order to be able to pass on half of the estate tax-free. Would that not be considered just good, conservative tax planning?

“Family values” is about love and caring. Let’s not slide down that self-righteous slope by punishing or depriving those who are different from us racially, sexually or spiritually.

Let’s make civil rights gender-neutral.

[Jerry Sternberg has been active on the local scene for many years.]

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