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Feb 12 2009

Left-Handers Threaten Nation’s Moral Fiber: Same-Sex Marriage, Handedness, and the History of Bigotry

Seven conversationsIn case you haven’t noticed, this week is Freedom to Marry Week, and bloggers all around the LGBT blogosphere are blogging up a storm. Today, as my part in this blogswarm, I’m proud to feature my very first guest post in this blog — written by my aunt, Laurie Muelder. This piece originally appeared as an opinion piece in the Galesburg Register-Mail, shortly after the November election and the passage of Prop. 8 and other anti- same- sex initiatives, under the title “Propositions limiting marriage unfortunate.”

Obama left handInterestingly, one characteristic of President- elect Obama’s, which historically aroused vilification, has generally been disregarded. Like presidents Ford, Reagan, Bush I and Clinton, he is left- handed. In the past, and still in many parts of the world, left- handedness is viewed with suspicion and forcibly suppressed.

While learning to write Chinese characters I asked how left- handed people did this and was told “there are no left-handed people in China.” In much of the Islamic world the right hand is to be used in bodily functions above the waist — the left below. Originating in a desert country where there was little water with which to wash, this makes sense; it also reinforces scriptural prejudice against the left- hand. Lefties here who went to school in the last century have described being physically forced to become right- handed, in both public and parochial schools. Justification for this kind of bias and behavior was found in the teachings of all the Abrahamic religions, think of the sheep and goats passage in Matthew with the righteous on the right and the evil on the left. The Buddha similarly described the left- hand road as the wrong way in life.

Left hand 3Gradually, as human knowledge progressed and handedness was increasingly recognized as the result of brain organization, this bigotry, religious and otherwise, diminished. Although preference for the left hand has occurred in all cultures and throughout human history — there are stone tools identified as having been used by lefties — what varies is the response to it. In the West it is now generally regarded as unusual (10-15 percent) and sometimes inconvenient, but among educated people there is little if any outright prejudice against left- handed people.

Same sex symbolsWhen I first read of the negative associations with left- handedness I was reminded of the kinds of intolerance and disgust expressed about people who are physically attracted to people like themselves, (which has also occurred in all cultures and throughout human history) and I hoped that as the scientific evidence of distinct brain differences between gay and straight people became more widely known that this prejudice too would abate. I was, therefore, saddened by the passage in Arizona, Arkansas and California of propositions to limit marriage to opposite sex couples. (Arkansas voters were especially heartless ordaining that “unmarried cohabiting couples” — a phrase aimed at gay couples — could not adopt children; every study done has shown they make just as good parents as mixed sex couples. Surely what is most important is children having secure and loving homes with two parents who are committed each other — I’m with Judge Judy on this!).

Slc_mormon_templeIn California the Catholic and Mormon churches were the primary financial backers of Proposition 8 which proposed to amend the state constitution to say “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid.” Eighty- three percent of evangelical Christians supported Proposition 8, which is somewhat ironic as the general population has a divorce rate 22 percent lower than the Christian Coalition; maybe they should worry about their own marriages instead of other peoples’. Black churches, which led the way in the struggle for equal rights for African- Americans, generally supported this effort to deny civil rights to their fellow citizens; more than 70 percent of blacks voted to support proposition 8. And, this week, the Peoria based Episcopal diocese of Quincy voted to leave the national church and join a South American Anglican church which shares its preference for male supremacy — no women priests — and their distaste for gay rights. Wasn’t it Jesus who said “judge not lest ye be judged?”

WeddingUltimately it is a question of fairness and of equal treatment under the law. The best solution would be for the government to deal only in civil marriage, leaving religious ceremonies to religious institutions, which could then decide as they wish without trying to legislate their standards and impose their rules on everyone. Some of the best arguments in favor of gay marriage come from conservative writers like New York Times columnist David Brooks, who E.J. Dionne describes as seeing “society as having a powerful interest in building respect for long- term commitment and fidelity in sexual relationships. Gay marriage underscores how important commitment is. Prohibiting members of one part of our population from making a public and legal commitment to each other doesn’t strengthen marriage; it weakens it.”

Straight against h8In California those under 30 voted 66 to 34 percent against Proposition 8. In another couple of generations the majority of Americans will be comfortable with same sex marriage and like left- handedness, homosexuality will increasingly come to be understood not so much as “unnatural” but simply as less usual in its frequency of occurrence in our population. In the meantime, if religious youth group leaders would reconsider what they are doing to the naturally gay adolescents in their flocks, perhaps teen suicide might decline.

7 comments

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  1. 1
    Dan of the Kerr Handed

    I am one of the many Kerr’s who is left handed (also knows as Kerr Handed). I have heard that our family have more lefties than any other however i have no real evidence for this. There are a lot of us however through history, see this post http://kerrscorner.blogspot.com/2007/01/are-you-kerr-handed.html
    I always wonder just how difficult it must have been for members of my family. I wonder how many gay lefties we had. All i know is that i look damn fine in a kilt and no man or woman could resist me.

  2. 2
    Nurse Ingrid

    I think there is something sinister going on here…

  3. 3
    Sebatinsky

    Amendment 2 in Florida also passed, which amended our state constitution to ban gay marriage as well as civil unions.

  4. 4
    spriteless

    My dad got his hand rapped at school for being left handed, but that didn’t stop him. I’ve heard of one person who developed a stutter when they learned to become right handed. Pretty scary stuff… =

  5. 5
    Umlud

    @ Dan of the Kerr Handed – Having done my undergraduate in Scotland (and being a Southpaw myself), I was very interested in the story of a castle built for lefties (it – and the legend of left-handed Kerr clansmen – were not uncommon to hear when people realized I was a lefty). Never got a chance to go to Ferniehirst Castle, though. Shame.

  6. 6
    Procrustes

    My mother was left-handed in grade school, and her teachers would whip her knuckles with a ruler whenever they caught her trying to write with her left hand. Today, she is ambidextrous, and writes with her left hand, mostly upside down.
    I hope you’re right about eventual acceptance of gays and others, but considering how long it’s taken just to let women vote, and to allow other civil rights that were suppressed based on similar phobias…

  7. 7
    Mike Williamson

    There’s a lot of residual bias against lefties – think of our words sinister mentioned above, and maladroit, for a more obscure example.
    Umlud, you should visit the Welsh castles too, Conwy is a good example. There are typically 8 towers in a castle, and one of them was built with the stairwell going anticlockwise. 1 in 8 people were left handed, so they’d put all their left handed soldiers there so they’d have an advantage against their upwards-attacking enemies, not having their arm blocked by the stairs.
    People are changing, eventually gay and lesbian people will be accepted. Next up: transphobia?

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