Monday, December 3, 2007

Willard, Larry, Barry, and Me

Who gets to pick your identity? When you identify as an American, or a Lutheran, or a person of Norwegian descent, do you gain anything? When other people identify you as a punk, or with some racial epithet, or they call you some name based on a physical characteristic, have you lost anything?

Willard "Mitt" Romney is giving a speech this week about faith in politics. Critics are suggesting that his Mormonism is causing him to be a bit behind in the polls among conservative, fundamentalist, Christians in Iowa. Many reports indicate that these CFCs believe that Mormonism is not Christianity. Mr. Romney has indicated in the past that his faith isn't relevant to his bid for presidency, yet critics point out that he says that his faith informs his decisions with regard to policy, ergo his faith is relevant.

The president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Gordon Hinckley, says in this interview that Mormons are Christians. Well, actually, he says that he's astounded that anyone would question the issue. The question is in bold, and the response is in plain text.

There are many, many people -- and I'm talking about the people who are respectful of your religion, and who are knowledgeable, literate -- who nonetheless question whether you are, in fact, Christian according to their definition. I'm wondering whether you can talk to the people who really are trying to understand: Can you address their concerns? What is it that people find so difficult?

I don't know. I can't understand it. The very name of the church is the name of Jesus Christ. Our whole message is centered around Christ. The Book of Mormon is an additional witness for Christ. Everything we do is done in the name of Christ. I don't understand why people say we're not Christians. That's their right, of course. They can have their own opinion. But all that I can say is that in our terms, we worship Christ; we believe in Christ; we accept him. And he's our savior; he's our redeemer. He's the Son of God; he's the great creator; he's the word made flesh as spoken of by John. He's the savior of the world, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

So, who gets to decide if Mormons are Christians? It's not as though there is a single decision making body for all of Christianity. Catholics lay claim to having a linear succession of church fathers all the way back to Jesus' apostle, Peter, whom the Bible says Jesus designated his successor, but internecine conflict has split the church countless times across the millennia. The Orthodox churches believe that they're the true church. The churches that popped up during the Protestant reformation believe that they have The Truth packaged up and ready for market. There are even more modern religions, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, that reject the hidebound Protestant sects. So, who gets to decide?

Senator Larry Craig made headlines this year for his arrest and guilty plea for disorderly conduct when he solicited sex from an undercover officer in the Minneapolis airport. So, Larry Craig is gay, right? Senator Craig, at a press conference, said these words: "I am not gay. I have never been gay."

Who gets to decide? Senator Craig denies that his actions were for the purpose of soliciting sexual activity, and yet his actions, as described by the officer, are exactly what would be expected if the allegations were true, according to people who have experience with such matters. He seems to be living life on the down-low.

Many in the Republican party want to get rid of him, because he is an embarrassment. People in the gay community seem to be split between wanting him to admit that he's gay and then repudiating him, or wanting him to admit to same-sex activities without adopting the identity. I imagine Senator Craig has his own wishes in the matter. Irrespective of his identity and wishes, his record shows that he consistently votes to criminalize the behavior in which he engaged and consistently votes to prevent people in same-sex relationships from having rights that match those of people in opposite-sex relationships. This voting record is at odds with his behavior, but is it at odds with his identity?

But, in Senator Craig's case, who gets to decide if he's gay? Is the definition simply, "Someone who engages, one or more times, in sexual activity with someone of the same sex?" What about people who are attracted to people of the same sex, but who are celibate? Or people who are in a relationship with someone of the opposite sex, but who are attracted to members of the same sex without acting on that attraction? Or people who are in a relationship with an intersexed person? Who gets to decide?

Senator Barack "Barry" Obama, current candidate for the Democratic party's nomination for presidential candidate, was born to a white American woman and a black Kenyan man. He is, at the time I am writing this, one of the front runners in this race. If he is elected to the presidency, he will be the first African-American President of the United States. When you consider the history of obstacles that African American people have faced in this country for a couple hundred years, this will be a Big Deal.

However, because his mother was white, there are questions about whether Senator Obama is black enough to satisfy some criterion of blackness. Senator Obama publicly self-identifies as black. However, given the fuss in the media, that question is out there in the American consciousness. So, again, who gets to decide whether Barack Obama is black enough? Should there be some legal definition of race?

At the company where I work, our human resources department has a charge of monitoring and reporting on racial diversity in our company. In order to facilitate those reports, the HR computer system has a racial identifier on the employee record. The interesting part is that one's racial identity is self-proclaimed. If I wanted to identify as multiracial Pacific Islander and Hispanic (non-white), I could, even though my actual ethnic/racial background puts me routinely in danger of becoming invisible when it snows.

So, who gets to decide if Barack Obama is black enough? Is there some kind of cultural gestalt that serves as arbiter for this sort of thing?

Yours truly, your host for the evening, adopted a child a bit ago. My son is a wonderful boy. My partner, GPop, and I have been enriched beyond imagining by this addition to our lives.

Because of the laws in our state and country, GPop's relationship to me isn't recognized as anything more than passing acquaintance unless we go through expensive and complicated legal hurdles to protect ourselves. Even in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage has been legal for a couple of years, the federal benefits afforded to married opposite-sex couples are not available to married same-sex couples. In fact, we had to go through some complicated, expensive, and anemic legal maneuvering just to provide GPop with some kind of legal recognition as a parent of Son. My sincere hope is that if anything were ever to happen to me, the arrangements we've made will suffice to keep GPop and Son together as a family, but I'm not convinced that it would be smooth sailing.

So, who gets to decide if we are a family? I say we are. GPop says we are. Son says we are. Those are the interested parties in toto. In my mind, nobody else should have any say in the matter whatsoever. Unfortunately, the state, as instructed by the people, has decided that our family isn't worthy of the protections or rights of other families. Other families run into the same issue. Should my private family arrangements be subject to the scrutiny and veto power of the government? Who gets to decide?

When I was discussing this issue with GPop, he stated that self-identification is the overriding factor. I countered with the question of what would happen if I made the claim that I was a Navy SEAL, which I am not, nor ever have been. Would that self-identification hold? We concluded that there are circumstances where objective reality can be verified to contradict self-identification claims. However, the earlier questions remain a little squirrelly.

Is there anybody out there? I'm getting a sandwich.

1 comment:

CrankyProf said...

I've been self-identifying as a horny, 18-year-old, size 2 zillionaire with several European mansions, a yacht and my own private Caribbean island for years, but no one believes me.