Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Sometimes I think the entire human species is desperately in need of adult supervision.

Take, for instance, Fox News's suit against Al Franken for using the term "fair and balanced" in his book title. Hello? What idiots allowed a corporation to trademark -- if in fact they ever did trademark it -- an expression that's been in common use for decades? This brings up some interesting questions. If I'm taking a photo of a friend in a fast-food restaurant that isn't McDonald's, and I tell him to "smile", can I get sued? (The Todd Beamer Foundation's attempt to trademark "Let's roll" made me go ballistic enough. The poor fellow, and others with him, exhibited extreme bravery in a life-and-death situation. That's not disputed. Neither is the fact that his family, like several thousand others, experienced a terrible loss. But what if the last clear words heard from any of the people who overpowered the hijackers had been "Oh, shit!"? Would someone try to trademark that?)

I would also like to take some of the folks who are currently shrilling about the "threat" posed by same-sex marriage to organized religion and put them in the corner for some quiet time. The last time I checked, religious denominations have every right to decide who can get married by their clergy or in their places of worship -- but can't force their regulations onto civil authorities, nor onto other denominations. At the same time, the government can't meddle in a denomination's theologically based definition of marriage. Roman Catholics can, and do, place restrictions on the remarriage of divorced persons. Conversely, the local Roman Catholic diocese has no say in whether a divorced parishioner remarries in a Protestant church, or at City Hall, or at a restaurant banquet facility in a service performed by a Reform rabbi and blessed by a Buddhist nun. Or, more precisely, the Catholic authorities have considerable say in said parishioner's future standing in the Church -- but the marriage is still completely legal.

I wish the Great Adult Supervisor would intervene in matters like these. In the first, it would be very clear. Sorry, it doesn't matter whether you're a mega-corporation out to crush its competitors, or a charitable foundation misguidedly trying to mythologize a principled person's spontaneous act of bravery. You can't buy up big chunks of the language and then try to sell them back at a huge markup to the people who speak it -- or prevent them from using the words at all.

In the second case, the G.A.S. would walk us through the problem step by step and point out the obvious. If you chase down tonight's cheeseburger with a beer, you've just enjoyed products that are forbidden to, respectively, orthodox Jews and observant Mormons but are completely legal to consume (provided you're of legal age to drink alcohol). If gay or lesbian partners are permitted to marry in a civil ceremony, or in a liberal religious fellowship, the marriage can be made legally binding whether or not other religious denominations approve of it. Analogously, the same-sex ceremonies of union now performed by some denominations are not legally binding, but are considered ethically binding by everyone I know who has either been through such a ceremony or performed one.

In fact, the Great Adult Supervisor's biggest and most difficult problem would be pointing out the subtleties of human society while trying to give everyone a fair deal. Most of the time, though, it would be awfully bogged down in keeping track of all of the people to which it had to assign time-outs.


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