Prop 8 and Left-Handed People

Perry v. Schwarzenegger is going to hit the federal courts soon, which could either mean the overturn of Prop 8, or another crushing failure. So I thought I’d talk a bit about… left-handed people.

Don’t laugh. I am dead serious here. Left-handed people are being discriminated against. The society we inhabit has hundreds of features designed with the right-hander in mind, features that prove suboptimal for left-handers. We write English from left to right, forcing lefties to drag their hands through wet ink or twist the page around. Those silly flip-up desks that they give you in college lecture halls only really work for right-handed people. Right-handers will probably never know the frustration of having to wield scissors or sharpen a pencil with their nondominant hands. We drive on the right, in part because we want the stickshift to be by the driver’s right hand, in part because historically the coachman held the whip in his right hand. It’s difficult to find lefty computer mice, and the left click is the primary interface method because the left mouse button sits beneath a right-handed user’s index finger. All books except manga are designed for right-handed people.

Now of course, discrimination against gays is much more serious, and oftentimes more intentional, than discrimination against lefties. But it hasn’t always been this way. In the middle ages, and even more recently, left-handedness was considered diabolical, and left-handed children are still sometimes encouraged by parents to be more right-handed, for religious, cultural, or practical reasons.

There are some interesting parallels to be drawn between handedness and sexual orientation. Scientists aren’t sure what causes handedness – there are probably genetic factors, because people seem so strongly to prefer one hand over the other, but genetic factors are probably not the whole picture. Handedness may also be affected by conditions in the womb. Or maybe some babies are born ambidextrous but learn to be right-handed by living in a strongly right-biased society.

Handedness, like sexuality, is a spectrum. Some people are hopeless at doing tasks with their nondominant hand, while others are pretty coordinated. Some people are totally ambidextrous. You can find people anywhere on the handedness spectrum from left to right. But lefties are in the minority, making up about 10% of the population.

Now here’s the parallel I want to draw with the Prop 8 battle. If there were a campaign to ban the sale of left-handed scissors and desks, no one would take it seriously and it would be shot down in a moment. What arguments could be made for such a ridiculous law? “Lefties live in a right-handed society and they should conform or get out.” “Handedness isn’t inborn, it’s a choice.” “Using your left hand is sinful.” These all sound insane. The first argument, for conformity, shouldn’t ever be made in a society that claims to protect individuality and personal freedom. As for the second – who would ever choose to be left-handed in a world that is so strongly right-biased? The third is obviously based on superstition and couldn’t be taken seriously by anyone with half a functioning brain.

And yet, these are exactly the types of arguments that are made in favor of Prop 8 and the ban on gay marriage. The most common argument for Prop 8 – the argument for the equality of a restricted definition of marriage – basically goes: “everyone has an equal right to use right-handed scissors if they so choose. We don’t need lefty scissors.”

I hope everyone can see how ridiculous this is.

And to those who say that gay marriage shouldn’t be allowed because homosexuality is a choice (the only other argument that is even worth countering) – I’m not even going to get into how ignorant and condescending it is to make this argument. Other people have already pointed this out. My counterargument is:

So what?

Plenty of other things are choices. The choice to state your political affiliation and vote however you choose. The choice to watch whatever TV you choose to watch, or not watch TV at all. The choice to like noise music, or 90s rap, even though nobody likes those things. Nobody gets upset about these choices, and guess why?

They’re not in the Bible, that’s why. And they don’t have much to do with sex. And the debate over gay marriage is not about choice, or what the right to get married actually means. It’s about religion, and sex, and prejudice.

I’m not saying you don’t have a right to your opinion. Everyone has a right to his or her opinion. But I am sick of gay marriage opponents pretending they have logic on their side, and throwing up barricades and straw men and doublespeak and false logic that I can break with my little finger. If you don’t like gay marriage, just stand up and shout “I am a bigot, and I have no regard for science or logic or any morality that isn’t in my holy book.” It’s time to come out of the closet.

And if you’re ashamed to come out as a bigot, maybe you should rethink your views.

ADDENDUM:

I realized I didn’t address the argument that marriage is a religious institution with millenia of tradition behind it, and the government can’t just step in and change what marriage means. Many, many other people have countered this argument, but for the sake of completeness, I’ll do it again:

First of all, marriage in the U.S. is not just a religious institution. Like it or not, the government has adopted the term “marriage” and used it to confer benefits on married couples. Among the most frequently cited of these rights are custody of children if one spouse dies, and hospital visitation rights. If the government granted all these rights to couples in civil unions, and reserved the term “marriage” for religiously-recognized unions, I probably wouldn’t even have written this post. But the fact is, the government does recognize both “marriage” and “civil union” – and the terms are distinct because the benefits of each are different. I’m in favor of letting religion have its way with semantics if it wants–I’d like it if the government threw out the term “marriage” entirely and only recognized civil unions. But alas, that doesn’t seem to be the way things are headed.

Second: it’s not like the definition of “marriage” is constant and unchangeable. You may say that you favor a “traditional” definition, but how traditional are we talking about here? Should we go back to the days when interracial marriages were prohibited? Or to a truly Biblical definition of marriage, where fathers basically sold off their daughters to interested young men? I don’t think very many people support these definitions of marriage anymore, so you can’t argue that the current definition of marriage has centuries of tradition behind it. It doesn’t.

And I’m not even sure that tradition is valuable in our rapidly-changing modern society. The idea of geocentrism, or the alchemical theory that illnesses were caused by imbalances in the four bodily humors–those ideas really did have centuries of tradition behind them. The scientific method itself is founded on the idea that a theory that has proven satisfactory for thousands of years can be overturned in an instant if a situation is found in which it doesn’t apply. If people valued tradition over evidence, we’d still be dying of dysentery, burning witches, and thinking that night air could kill us, among other things.

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