Saturday, November 01, 2008

Indecent Proposals?

Yes, I have been very distracted by U.S. politics. There's a lot going on right now! It's completely fascinating for a person who comes from a country with a different style of democracy. Japanese don't get to vote for their Prime Minister, nor do we get to vote on specific issues. Instead, we elect lawmakers who then "represent" us in voting on various issues in our parliament, the Diet. So, although we are a highly educated, completely literate populace, we're not trusted to actually make the decisions, at least not directly.

Here I am in California where, along with the choices for President/Vice President, Congressmen, Senators and Local Representatives, we can vote on specific issues. And I think the issues finally got Big Dog to register to vote. (In Japan, everyone with an address is mailed a postcard at election time. There is no "registering" involved.) Thanks to BD, I got to take a look at the mail-in ballot. The issues, called Propositions, are right there on the ballot, below the list of candidates and come with a brief paragraph explaining each issue. Interestingly, there is also a sentence or two about the economic impact. It all comes down to dollars and cents, huh. Many of the issues are complicated and, without reading the entire proposition, seem open to interpretation. I wonder if there are many people who vote "yes" or "no" when they mean the opposite. But then, other propositions sound pretty straightforward.

Proposition Two will make humane living conditions mandatory for livestock. No more chickens stuffed into tiny cages where they can hardly move, let alone turn around or spread their wings. No more calves shot full of antibiotics to keep them from dying in their horrible pens. Only a real sicko would want to torture their food before consumption. (Flashback to the urban legend of the screaming monkey brain: Apparently, terror is what makes the brain taste so...indescribable.) But if you only saw the "anti" ads, you might put in a negative vote.

The ads don't describe what Proposition Two is really about. Instead, they tell you that if it becomes law, the cost of food production will rise and producers will take it elsewhere, so in fact, your food will become not only more expensive but less safe. If voters really thought about it, I think most would be willing to pay a few extra cents not to have to eat stuff coming out of a torture chamber. And, I think most would chose "safe" Californian eggs over "unsafe" elsewhere eggs, for example. The ads claim that the food "would come from Mexico, exposing us to more diseases." "Salmonella" flashes by in the ad, menacingly. No one mentions that these are diseases that are the direct result of ranchers and farmers keeping their eye on the bottom line, rather than humane treatment! (How should one vote if one were a vegan? You certainly can't support inhumane treatment of animals. And yet, by saying "yes" to Prop 2, aren't you also condoning the consumption of animals or animal products?)

And then there's Prop Eight.
It's the proposition to outlaw gay marriage. Again.
"But didn't that law just go into effect?" you may wonder. Flip-flopping laws are nothing new in the U.S. Anyone remember Prohibition?
The ads try to scare straight people with "the teaching of gay marriage will become mandatory in public schools." First, schools really have no business teaching marriage, period. Especially not when they can't even teach basic reading, writing and arithmetic anymore! So a proposition to boost education standards would have made way more sense, but for all the liberalism in California, there is still a very real anti-gay part of society.

I see "Yes on 8" signs on the lawns of kindhearted, tolerant people and wonder how they could want to exclude gay people from expressing their love and commitment in a legal manner, from having the same rights straight couples have. (And don't forget, not too long ago, it was illegal for people of different races to marry each other. Miscegenation was not only illegal, it was also a sin.)

"Marriage is not just a legal matter, it's a religious matter. It's a covenant before God," they may argue. But if it's a sacred commitment, a vow before a Supreme Being, how do they explain their own divorces? Oh, it really wasn't THAT sacred. I see. Plus, if it's all about religion ("Nowhere in the Bible do they talk about a gay marriage!" "Homosexuality is a sin!") then isn't it something they need to take up with their church, not the state?

"They should have just called it something other than marriage," Big Dog once said to me. "It would have shut up all those homophobes."
I doubt it, but I am thinking now that maybe the legal union between ALL couples should be called something other than "marriage." The concept of marriage has changed over the centuries and is still different from culture to culture. In some cultures, it's a joining of families and has nothing to do with love. Here in America, a mix of cultures and beliefs, who can say what "traditional" marriage is? Traditional for whom? No matter which "tradition" you opt for, it's bound to exclude a lot of other people, and that just doesn't sound like a fair law.

Well, in a few days, we'll find out how it all turns out. In the meantime, I remain a captivated bystander. It's much more interesting than Election Season in Japan which is all about sound trucks cruising through neighborhoods, yelling at ear-splitting decibels "This is (insert name here)! Yoroshiku onegai shimasu! (support me! vote for me!)"

Way more interesting.

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