That gay marriage thing again – marriage

Research by numerous scholars who have studied marriage, sexuality and kinship throughout US history supports the view that diverse types of families, including families built on same-sex partnerships, have existed across time, even as law and government have accorded some of those families unequal status.  Laws and customs regulating marriage, as well as the US Constitution, have not been static, but have tended to increase the number of people entitled to claim the benefits and responsibilities of legal marriage.  Because no evidence exists that a viable democracy depends upon defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman, it is troubling that those against gay marriage use that premise as the cornerstone of their argument.

Marriage has been a fluid institution throughout history.  There were times when marriage to multiple spouses was accepted (not just in American history, either, but in world history).  There were times, even within the early church, when same-sex unions were accepted and supported.

The inarguable truth of fluid definitions of marriage in history, while certainly correct, is not a rational justification for any position on the issue of gay marriage.  Based on that premise, one might with equal justification argue that, because marriage has been fluid throughout history, people should be free to marry multiple spouses, immediate family members, or ten-year-old children.  That's why you won't see me use that cheap answer to a complicated question.

Yet the argument against gay marriage is based on the false presumption that same-sex unions will somehow denigrate the sanctity of marriage as an institution.  The argument even goes so far as to claim that gay marriage will cause the downfall of our democracy.

Once I stopped laughing at that one, I thought some level of comparison was in order.

Those who so readily call for amending the Constitution in order to stop homosexual marriage must be the same people who thought it was acceptable for Britney Spears to get married for one night, only to annul the bond the next day.

These are also the same people who believe it's perfectly within their definition of marriage to see two strangers play to a television audience in order to get married for $1,000,000.

Am I to believe, with only these two examples (and don't make me come up with more), that gay marriages would somehow degrade marriage for everyone else?

It's a well documented fact that the majority of heterosexual marriages end in divorce.  Is this not a blatant attack on the sanctity of marriage?  Would it not be prudent to outlaw divorce in order to ensure our democracy doesn't crumble at our feet?

Since the dissolution, rather than the creation, of a marriage tends to more effectively undermine its purported sanctity, I believe it important for all good Christians to stop for a moment and remember that Jesus himself said, "Whatsoever God hath joined together, let no man cast asunder."  That, as you may know, is Matthew 19:6, another of the inconvenient bible verses so many right-wing dimwits choose to ignore.  The idea that denying marriage rights to a group would somehow alter the downward spiral marriage has taken in the last few decades is as laughable as it is offensive.

But the bible didn't stop there with regards to marriage, so neither shall we.

Jesus also mentioned (in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9) that any follower who married more than once would be committing adultery.  As we all know, adultery is a sin according to the bible.  Why do I not hear this being preached at the heathen masses who divorce and remarry at will, as if it's a sport to see who can do it most often?

I am confused as to why these things are not attacked as assaults on the sanctity of marriage or the cause of an eventual downfall of our democracy.

The argument against same-sex marriages, especially if based on the idea of trying to protect marriage, is horrifically misguided and unable to see its very own faults.  Those most adamant about stopping gay marriage are likely the biggest investors in divorce and multiple marriages.

For that reason, I offer an alternative, a different approach to the overall question which should appease everyone.

All the self-titled protectors of marriage shouldn't mind if all civil and legal rights for spouses were forbidden, making marriage a strictly religious or spiritual union.  Marital status could not be used to discriminate — no different tax status, no superior rights of inheritance, no extra medical benefits, no special hospital visitation rights, and so on.  If marriage is indeed a strong institution requiring protection, that will be the truest test of it and would alleviate all of the legal arguments against homosexual marriages.

Yet I very much doubt that such a move would even be considered.

And yet more planets have been discovered

In the ever expanding race to discover planets outside of our own solar system, two new planets were recently discovered that are more like Neptune than Jupiter (as most planets discovered thus far have been gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn).  Scientists are becoming increasingly certain that, as our technological ability to locate extra-solar planets becomes more finely tuned, we bring ourselves closer to discovering Earth-like planets — that is, planets of the appropriate size and density to support life and orbiting their sun at a distance which would make the planet habitable.

Since the number of extra-solar planets discovered is rapidly approaching 200, the most recent of which have been smaller than the gas giants we've discovered to date, I believe it's only a matter of time before we begin to locate planets like Earth orbiting distant stars.  In addition, as we continue to realize our galaxy is full of planets of varying kinds, the idea that we are the only life in such a vast conglomeration of stars becomes inarguably more remote.

In honor of Derek

This recent addition to the Random Thoughts database is in honor of Derek.  Although he's still alive, I believe this quote from Ambrose Bierce very accurately describes the situation he now finds himself in.  May your path be clear and lighted, and may your loved ones find the strength to help you on your journey without unnecessary delay and suffering.  Go in peace, go and rest, go with all of our love.

Death is a dignitary who, when he comes announced, is to be received with formal manifestations of respect, even by those most familiar with him.

— Ambrose Bierce

When it’s time to say goodbye

I received a call last Sunday that Derek had taken a significant turn for the worse.  You may remember that he recently moved back to his hometown so his family could care for him since he's been so sick for the last two years.  Having only been back home for a week or so, I had hoped — against my better judgment — that his health would hold up for a while longer.  Sadly that is not the case.

Derek began having seizures late Saturday evening.  They continued through Sunday morning.  They moved him to ICU Sunday morning, but by then he was catatonic — near comatose.  The lymphoma in his head had continued to grow despite the radiation treatment.  In fact, it would be safe to say it took several leaps forward in size — the doctors called it dramatic growth.  It had moved beyond simply impacting his brain and thereby putting pressure on it and was now actually fully involved in his brain.  That means the mass had actually infiltrated his brain tissue.

He remained subjugated by his own mind until Tuesday, at which point he started speaking again.  That's when I saw him.  He was completely incoherent, unable to remember me or anyone in his family and unable to display any cognitive function outside of complete dementia.  There were moments of clarity, but they were short and rare.  Most of what he said was random, garbled junk that his mind was spewing forth.  There was no logical order to what he said.  He simply existed in his own world, almost completely separated from reality.

He even had to be restrained for a few days due to the violent outbreaks caused by his mental state.

As the week continued, his condition improved only slightly due in part to the increase in anti-inflammatory steroids he was given.  By reducing the inflammation around the brain, he was able to regain some clarity of thought.

But not much.

He would often forget where he was, that he was sick, what he had, and why his family was around.  His conversations were broken and at least half gibberish, random thoughts bubbling to the surface and unexpectedly interjecting themselves into his thought processes.

And that was only the beginning.

His physical condition began to deteriorate quickly.  Over the course of two days he had a significant outbreak of skin lesions.  He ran a temperature almost every evening despite the fact that no specific infection could be identified (although all the signs were there to indicate multiple infections were present).

Throughout the week I gauged how well his mental state had been restored.  Despite the physical ailments which seemed to be popping up from all directions, if his mental state was strong and he had clarity of thought, he would fight for survival.

To my dismay, Derek was already gone.  Although he regained some clarity of thought and was able to function at least partially well (in a mental sense), he continued to suffer from random amnesia, often forgetting where he was, why his family was there, why they knew he was sick, what had happened in both the near and far past, and, most sadly, he suffered from an almost Tourette's-like tendency to randomly and constantly vocalize the thoughts literally running through his head.  Some of these outbursts were questions about what hospital he was in, where he was, why his family was there, what did he have, and was it treatable.  Others were statements ranging from his disease to his sexual persona to his job — the job he lost in January of this year.

He often forgot where he was.  It was not surprising to here "What hospital am I in?" two dozen times in the same day.  It was also not surprising to have to repeat the same information many times before the topic changed, only to have to repeat it again later because he still could not remember the answer.

It probably comes as no surprise to anyone reading this, if you've seen the other posts about Derek, that he has HIV/AIDS.  His CD4 count is 23 (officially AIDS is anything below 200, and normal counts range from 500-1,500).  He has been suffering from opportunistic infections for the last three years and has been in the most violent throes of the disease for the last two years (hospitalized for about the last 18 months).

Having seen this before, I knew that the diagnosis of AIDS-related primary central nervous system lymphoma was an indication of the final stages of the disease.  How rapidly one progresses from there is individual — there's no one-size-fits-all prognosis.

In Derek's case, he would progress rapidly.

As his family is still coming to terms with his illness and condition, all of this seems very sudden to them.  I keep trying to help them understand that it's not sudden at all — we've been dealing with this for two years, most of which has been spent with him in the hospital and unable to care for himself or manage his own life.

So they are now faced with the most difficult test of love — when it's time to say goodbye.

I've made it clear to them that, having known Derek for the last eight years and having been through the horrible progression of the disease over the last two years, he's nearing the end of his journey.  Whether it was months or weeks, it would be self-deceptive to think in terms of years with regards to his remaining lifespan.  And Derek would not have wanted to have his life prolonged in this state, with no hope of recovery, with no hope of carrying on any semblance of life as he knew it, with a rapidly declining ability to differentiate reality from the deluge of waking dreams which now assault him so long as he is awake (and he can only sleep with the help of drugs).

And now the real challenge unfolds.

Derek is already gone.  In the last week I have realized that.  The man I knew and cared for and loved deeply as a dear and close friend is gone and will never return.  Who he is now is only a shadow of who he was.  Who he is now is not who he will be tomorrow or the day after.  From this point forward, each passing day will see a little (or a lot) more of Derek slip away, leaving behind a shell of the man he once was.  And his rapid mental decline is only a part of the issue as his physical state is following the same path.  His body is literally being destroyed from the inside out by multiple infections working on multiple levels.

The worst news was yet to come, though.

Tests indicate that the HIV infection is now directly attacking his brain.  So it's a mental double-whammy.  Not only is the lymphoma assaulting him on the macroscopic level, but HIV is attacking him on the microscopic level.

I've tried to make clear to his family that his mental decline will be rapid.  His physical decline will follow, but at a slightly slower pace.  This will result in Derek leaving long before his body dies.

So today I had a serious discussion with them about letting go, about easing his pain and suffering and letting him go peacefully rather than extending his life only to prolong his suffering.  This is a selfish act, and I know they don't wish to travel that road.

But they are struggling with the decision to pull the life-sustaining care while maintaining the comfort care.  They feel they need more time.  They don't want to let him go.

Love is a two-edged sword.  On one side we have our desire to ensure the longevity of a loved one.  On the other side we have our desire not to want them to suffer, not to prolong their misery.  It takes true love to know which side must be used when and to have the strength to use it accordingly.

I believe I've catalyzed the discussion and pushed them in the right direction, but the final decision is theirs.  I only hope they love him enough and can find the inner strength necessary to do what is right.

I know that the Derek I knew is already gone.  The part of him that remains — this shell, this rapidly declining specter of the man that once was — deserves to be set free.  This is what he would want.

I weep for Derek.  I weep for what is already lost and what is to come, whether prolonged agony or a quiet, comfortable move to final peace.  I hope it is the latter.  He deserves that much.

As the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore once said, "Death is not the extinguishing of the light… it is the putting out of the lamp because the dawn has come."


trapped inside oneself
then bright lights
darkness again
cry for help
no one hears
one person stops to listen
gives courage

[circa 1984]