Then Ernie Leans on Bert’s Shoulder while They Watch the News
So, I want to go back to last week’s Supreme Court decisions –back to the cover of the New Yorker and the mixed reaction – from effusion to raging – it received. We all know the controversy is less about Bert and Ernie than about the decision of the Supreme Court (or at least 5/9ths of it) to affirm and obviate the unconstitutional nature of that law passed in California amending that state’s Constitution to include this, “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California”
You probably also know that the 1965 Voting Rights Act was essentially rescinded in a similar 5/9ths decision the preceding day (EX:C blog, The VRA and Racism: “The country’s original sin” 6-30-3013). Sexism, racism, classism. We are in no way done with these things in this country and last week’s SCOTUS decisions reveal both our collective advancement (slight but worthy of great celebration!) and the disturbing depth of our unwillingness across the boards to risk the full recognition of human dignity.
All of the high court’s decisions deserve great attention. Many of them have profound and obvious overlap in their shared status as powerful public policies directly affecting historically marginalized people. Because of that focus, there’s little surprise that the people who believe that they benefit from THE WAY THINGS ARE (or the way they think they are … or the way they were 30-40-50 years ago) are upset by the decision to strike down the California marriage bill. That upset is likely most situated in a deeper belief – the fear that the world will fall apart with changes that seem catastrophic.
If your logic trail is fundamentally grounded in distrust (of people, of life) you will see and expect the worst unless you are confident in and adherent to rigid rule sets that you take as universally applicable. Here it seems important to note that there is reason for distrust of both people and life. It resides in the fact of death and the impossibility of escaping it. The logic goes something like this, “Life will end and, since acts of God can’t be contained, at least we can control the things people do.”
I mention this logic because from the middle of it, it makes total sense to those who live and enact it. That’s the way things go with logic systems – they arise from worldviews. And a worldview is the only way the world makes sense to the person holding it. It’s what defines their truth. This is, by the way, universally applicable. It applies to me and to you and to anyone else reading this or not. And to a certain point of wisdom, worldviews tend to be exclusive, familiar, comfortable and often quite rigidly authoritarian. Until there’s some undeniable change.
To really change a worldview, the change or exception must be either repeated so often it can’t be denied, or so huge and personal that there is no choice but to get it that there IS a truth beyond/outside the logic system. For example, … well … the world. These days many of us can see from everything going on in our country and around the globe that living in human community and in a constantly changing natural environment pretty much guarantees both change and disorientation. Sometimes the disorientation gets pulled back into the old worldview – with denial, discrediting, even violence.
So controversy is simply unavoidable since worldviews arise and develop for individuals and cultural groups in such different ways. But we have a huge opportunity every time we realize we’re seeing the world differently than the person we’re observing or somehow in relationship with – and that would be everyone in the world, since there’s no escaping the fact we share this planet at this time, that fact increasingly salient as issues of horrific armed conflict and the wellbeing of water, air, land are only amping up.
So, I’ve gone a bit far afield from Bert and Ernie. Here’s the point. People love. They fall in love and pretty often express that love with sex. They also express that love with public affirmation, proclamation of their love as a way of declaring devotion. Somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of those people fall in love with someone whose gender at birth is the same as their own. It’s a bit trickier for these people to build families with children, but if that’s part of what draws their hearts and attention, they can do that as well as different-sex people who have fallen in love, married and had children (for example, check this amicus brief by the American Sociological Association).
Those are just facts – a whole paragraph of facts that public policy is shifting to accept. The controversy around the change in the way we recognize and affirm the dignity of human beings is inevitable. As inevitable is the resistance some people will have to these changes. The question remains, as ever, will conversation occur, will tolerance emerge (not one of my favorite words – tolerance — but likely a doorway on peace between people of conflicting positions) or will violence (verbal, physical, armed) ensue?
The vast majority of us humans keep showing up with willingness to trust our capacities for peace – and, of course you know I see listening as key to these capacities.
When they were conceived as characters for Sesame Street, Bert and Ernie were not imagined to be gay. They were imagined to be good and reliable friends. Whether or not their necessarily imaginary lives would have moved toward falling in love is anyone’s guess, and it doesn’t really matter since good and reliable men friends might lean onto one another when watching the news regardless of their response to it.
There you have it. We see an image and all we have is our worldview when it comes to making sense of what we see. Human controversy. And, for me, only reason to celebrate. Isn’t it excellent that you are entirely free to make up your own mind?