Saturday, June 27, 2015

On gay 'marriage' and the Confederate battle flag

Over the last couple of days two major developments have affected the American body politic;  the controversy over the Confederate battle flag, and the legalization by the Supreme Court of gay 'marriage' in the USA.  I think both are related.

As an immigrant to this country, I've always found the Confederate battle flag an anachronism, because it's been misused by almost everyone.  It was never the national flag of the Confederacy, but was used by the Army of Northern Virginia.  As Wikipedia reminds us:

At the First Battle of Manassas, near Manassas, Virginia, the similarity between the "Stars and Bars" and the "Stars and Stripes" caused confusion and military problems. Regiments carried flags to help commanders observe and assess battles in the warfare of the era. At a distance, the two national flags were hard to tell apart. In addition, Confederate regiments carried many other flags, which added to the possibility of confusion. After the battle, General P. G. T. Beauregard wrote that he was "resolved then to have [our flag] changed if possible, or to adopt for my command a 'Battle flag', which would be Entirely different from any State or Federal flag." ... He described the idea in a letter to his commanding General Joseph E. Johnston: "I wrote to [Miles] that we should have "two" flags—a peace or parade flag, and a war flag to be used only on the field of battle—but congress having adjourned no action will be taken on the matter—How would it do us to address the War Dept. on the subject of Regimental or badge flags made of red with two blue bars crossing each other diagonally on which shall be introduced the stars, ... We would then on the field of battle know our friends from our Enemies."

The flag that Miles had favored when he was chairman of the "Committee on the Flag and Seal" eventually became the battle flag and, ultimately, the most popular flag of the Confederacy.

Ironically, it was only after the Civil War that the battle flag became identified with the Confederacy as a whole.  I can only presume that was through the efforts of veterans who'd fought beneath it, and who wanted to commemorate their sacrifice.  It may also have had something to do with the mythos of the 'Lost Cause', which also arose after the war.  The battle flag as such had nothing whatsoever to do with the institution of slavery;  but because it became identified with the Confederacy as a whole, rather than just the Army of Northern Virginia, it inevitably and irrevocably acquired that association.  That's why opposition to it has grown so entrenched among the liberal establishment, the black community, and those who regard residents in the former Confederacy as unregenerate Southerners who need to be reminded who won the war.  (There are a surprising number of them.)

Unfortunately, those in the south who value the battle flag for its original significance have had the moral ground cut out from under their feet by its identification with the Confederate States as a whole.  If it was just a battle flag, I don't think anyone could seriously object to its being flown on historical grounds.  As a symbol of a state that was established to preserve the institution of slavery . . . that's a whole new ball of wax.  (And don't tell me the Confederacy was not established for that specific purpose.  The historical record - including the statements of those who supported and endorsed secession of the various States - is quite clear.  The Confederacy was all about the 'peculiar institution'.)

After the church shooting at Charleston, photographs of the shooter posing with a handgun and the battle flag were found online.  (He was also photographed wearing the flags of the former Rhodesia and apartheid-era South Africa, adding to his personal association of the Confederate battle flag with racism.)  That precipitated the public explosion of anger against the battle flag among certain circles that has led to the current situation.  Many in the south are angry and appalled that the flag has now become a symbol for racism in the eyes of many.  They protest that it's simply not the case, that the flag is being tarred with the brush of mass murder.  I fear they forget that the flag has already been tarred with the brush of racism and slavery, whether they like it or not, and whether or not there's any factual historical foundation for that.  The conflation of the battle flag with the cause and nation for which the Army of Northern Virginia fought has inexorably led to this.  I fear the backlash is now inevitable.

The trouble is, the status of the battle flag has been enshrined in custom, and sometimes in law, in several former states of the Confederacy.  If it had remained a completely private affair, with individuals or small groups flying the flag to commemorate historical association or something like that, the present situation would never have arisen.  Unfortunately, legislative enshrining of the flag as a symbol of a nation that itself symbolized slavery and racism has now run into its use by the shooter at Charleston.  It's now so inextricably tied up with all that symbolism that I fear it can no longer be separated from them in the minds of many, perhaps most Americans.

As for gay 'marriage', I put the word 'marriage' in quotes because to me, and I think to many others, the term has always denoted a religious or spiritual understanding of the formal bond between a man and a woman.  Certainly, in human history there has almost always been the understanding that such a bond is ordained, or sanctioned, or blessed, by the divinity, in whatever form and under whatever name a given society has known him or her or it.  Therefore, for the US Supreme Court to rule that 'marriage' must be opened to all, including same-sex couples, is, to me, a contradiction in terms.  If 'marriage' is a religious or spiritual institution, it should fall under the separation of church and state, and not be subject to interference by the government or the judiciary.  If it's not a religious institution, then why are churches and faiths so invested in it?

I've discussed this before in these pages (follow those four links for more information).  My preferred solution today remains what it's always been:  get the state out of the business of marriage altogether.  Let individuals and couples decide for themselves where their priorities lie.  If they're religiously oriented, let them marry in a way that conforms to their faith.  If they aren't, let them make whatever arrangements they wish in order to codify their relationship and afford each other the legal, contractual benefits of shared living.  This may or may not involve a formal, state-sanctioned bond (although for purposes such as inheritance, etc. that may be inevitable).

Frankly, the Supreme Court decision won't change my outlook on marriage at all.  I'll continue to regard it from the perspective of my religious faith, and act accordingly.  To those who don't share that understanding, I'll respect and accept their right to live according to their own lights, as long as they extend the same courtesy to me.



trailbee said...

This decision is the destruction of a civil, stable society. May God help us.

Paul said...

the religion they propose is the government. They think mostly think they are smarter than god.

a_random_guy said...

There's no question that slavery was one of the issues of the Confederacy. You may even argue (though many will disagree) that it was the major issue. Certainly, for this reason, many people find the Battle Flag offensive.

However, I strongly disagree with you that this removes the "moral ground" from under anyone's feet. Whatever the flag meant 150 years ago, what it means today in the South is something different: it has become a symbol of the region, a symbol of protest against the excesses of the D.C. government. People in the South are proud of their regional difference, and proud of the symbol that represents them.

There is nothing wrong, or even particularly unusual, about a symbol having two vastly different meanings to different groups. The US flag is hugely offensive to many people in the Middle East. Since there are quite a few immigrants from that region to the US, perhaps we should ban the US flag? Just to avoid offense?

Slavery is over. No black in the US now alive was ever a slave. No one's parents were slaves. No one's grandparents were slaves. It's history. The modern problems between the races are different, and have nothing whatsoever to do with the Confederacy or the Confederate flag. It's time to stop listening to overly sensitive PC types out looking for the next outrage.

kamas716 said...

I largely agree with what you've written here Peter. The one area I differ on is that, from what I've read, the average soldier fighting under the Confederate States of America wasn't necessarily fighting _for_ slavery but rather _against_ what they saw as interference by the Federal Government and the do-gooders from the north. It seems like the two sides were fighting for two different reasons which revolved around the issue of slavery. I'm no historian, this is just what I've gotten out of what I've read about/from the time period.

Most of the Confederate soldiers didn't hold slaves. Some of the Union soldiers did hold slaves. From what I've read Lincoln wanted to end slavery, but wanted even more so to hold the nation together as a single unit. The South's economy was largely centered on slavery as a means of production while the North's was more industrialized. The actual racists attitudes towards minorities between the North and the South seemed very similar.

The war started in April 1861. But The Emancipation Proclamation didn't come about until January 1863 (well there was the warning in September '62, but it didn't actually take effect until Jan. '63), almost two years after hostilities started. The EP only applied to slaves held in CSA controlled areas (you'll notice parts of LA and VA were exempted). Slavery in Union states wasn't legally ended until December 1865 when the 13th Amendment was ratified. Had the CSA disbanded and returned to the Union the EP would not have applied and slavery would have gone one (for a little while anyway).

The other robot said...

You say that they are related, but I could not tell from what you wrote how you think they are related?

On the one hand you spend a lot of time trying to convince, it seems to me, people who revere the Battle Flag of the Confederacy that it is associated with the evils of slavery and racism (whatever racism is) and then go on to talk about people who being forced to accept something that is against their beliefs.

Do you think that both are "contradictions in terms?'

I do not disagree, for the most part, with what you are saying, I simply do not understand why you think they are related.

Anonymous said...

These decisions IMO are mere chicken feed compared to the other one relating to discrimination. Essentially they said that even if no signs of discrimination could be found, it was still discriminatory if the results were not sufficiently diverse.
This is going to tie right in to HUD's plan to identify through census data communities that are not inclusive enough, and import, via low cost housing, welfare etc, enough "diverse" people to obtain some set goal of "diversity".

Roy said...

" long as they extend the same courtesy to me."

Well now, that's rub isn't it. Because they will most definitely not extend that same courtesy.

I am willing to guess that most people really don't care much about gay marriage one way or the other. I don't, because what gay people do between themselves really is none of my business. However, the gays keep pushing and pushing to make it my business regardless of what I think or what my religious beliefs are.

Look for more wedding cake and photographer cases to go to court in the near future. It won't be long after that until they are trying to force ordained ministers and priests to perform the weddings against their will.

As far as the Confederate flag goes, I don't see what all the fuss is. Some people revere the flag and some hate it. So I am okay with removing it from public buildings and facilities. (I would make exception for things like memorials, Confederate cemeteries, and museum displays.) Otherwise, anyone is still free to display it on their own private property to their hearts content. (...and stores like Walmart are free to shoot themselves in the foot over the whole mess.)

Now, if they decide to try and outlaw the flag on private property, then I have a problem with it.

m4 said...

But here's the thing Peter, until now, those couples who are religious haven't been able to get married in a way that corresponds to their faith.

For me personally, religion is a guide to life and originally was a practical manual for maintaining bodily, moral, and spiritual health. However I also believe that faith is a personal thing. Those that follow a religion should be free to follow it as they see fit as long as they do not oppress others. I feel that "gay marriage" is a lot more worthy of the title of marriage than most of what goes on in say, Vegas, or the various other "marriages" I've heard of. Did a woman marry a rollercoaster?

As for taking marriage definitions from the bible... Doesn't the bible object to divorce? Or a whole host of other things that have been discarded because they are no longer relevant in our society?

I say let these people marry, and let them follow the word of your God. Who are you to judge them? If they have sinned by their union, God will judge them.

Hebrews 13:4
Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.

They say they love each other. I believe the bible has this to say:
1 John 4:7
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.

I don't believe there's any ambiguity on what love is, nor do I believe that the bible states that love between x and y is not love.

perlhaqr said...

Therefore, for the US Supreme Court to rule that 'marriage' must be opened to all, including same-sex couples, is, to me, a contradiction in terms. If 'marriage' is a religious or spiritual institution, it should fall under the separation of church and state, and not be subject to interference by the government or the judiciary. If it's not a religious institution, then why are churches and faiths so invested in it?

But, Peter... whose religion?

FWIW, I strongly agree with your "get government out of 'marriage' entirely" position. I, for one, am incensed that the government dares intrude on my territory in that manner. In fact, I had refused to continue performing marriage ceremonies, after a gay couple who are friends of mine asked me to do theirs, (as a way of pointing out to me what was obvious; both they and I knew it was illegal in my state at the time) and I finally put together that I couldn't, because the government was interfering with that sacrament. (Obviously, yes, I could have still performed the religious ceremony, but if we are being intellectually honest, we must admit that before, hetero marriage ceremonies served a dual purpose, both the religious aspect and the civil. I'm an anarchist, so I'd strongly prefer the government not exist at all, but if it is, and especially if it is going to engage in taxation, I hold that it has a moral requirement to treat all of the citizens it takes money from equally before the law. Which (to me) means giving homosexual couples the same option of civil marriage it gives heterosexual couples. I'll leave off discussion of poly people for now as off topic. ;) ) And so I said I would not perform weddings until I could legally do theirs.

I mean, realistically, would you find it acceptable if the state declared that most religious weddings would function as civil marriages as well, but not Catholic weddings?

perlhaqr said...

I also realise this last comment may seem very strange compared with the one I left on your post about the Battle Flag, where I declared myself an agnostic. It's... been a while since I stopped doing weddings, a lot of things have happened since then. :-/

Kirk said...

I realize that I'm WAAAY late to this party, but the Confederate Battle Flag is the flag of the democratic party. ZoNation puts it best here: