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The Step Backward
February 24, 2004 - 12:44 p.m.
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The fact that a Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage is a realistic possibility is a frightening notion to me in this land that was once the worldwide shining beacon of liberty. Even though this country has never had true equality, this country's history has been marked by large, and very successful, civil rights movements that continue to make great progress toward true equality.
Past Constitutional Amendments have always moved this country forward toward acheiving equal rights- the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery; the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteeing equal rights to members of all races; the Fifteenth Amendment giving the right to vote to members of all races; the Ninteenth Amendment giving women the right to vote; the Twenty-Fourth Amendment abolishing poll taxes so the poor could have equal access to voting; and the Twenty-Sixth Amendment giving everyone of at least eighteen years of age the right to vote.
There have been many Amendments to abolish various types of discrimination, but the proposed gay marraige ban would be the first enshire discrimination against a certain class of people in the Consitution. And even though I in particular am not a target of that discrimination that may be enshired in the Constitution, I find it frightening nonetheless. The drafters of the Constitution had assumed that they established such a high threshhold to amending the Constitution, that the constitutional amendment process could not be used by a majority to disriminate against a minority- it would just be too hard.
But it's certainly not too hard. The biggest obstacle will come in the Republican controlled Congress, which will need to start the Amendment rolling with 67% approval from each House. You can count on most Republicans (who receive far more support from fundamentalist Christian groups than gay groups) to vote for it. If that comes to pass, that doesn't require all that many defectors from the Democrats to vote for it. I don't know exactly how much support comes from the Democrats for banning gay marriage, because everything I read seems to be a debate between Republicans and gay groups, without Democrats having much to say. And that's precisely why I don't trust congressional Democrats to oppose a ban on gay marriage- they haven't said much about opposing it yet. A lot of Democrats are going to let the Republicans take the heat from gay groups, and then quietly cast their lot against gay marriage at decision-time so they don't alienate their fundamentalist constituency.
After coming out of Congress, an Amendment would have to be ratified by 38 states. That's a high threshhold- the Equal Rights Amendment wasn't able to get 38 states to ratify it. But, 38 states already have their own state laws "sanctity of marriage" laws. So if the gay marriage ban makes it out of Congress, you can bet that the states will ratify it. (And you can see that equal rights for women is less important in the United States than banning gay marriage.)
So don't think that a Constitutional gay marriage ban is some distant, longshot hope for ultra-conservatives. Right now, it has very good odds of happening.
Ironically, what may have tipped the scale against gay marriage is the act of civil disobedience performed by the mayor of San Francisco in granting marriage licenses to gay couples. As long as gays were merely struggling for equal rights against the system, conservatives didn't have to make acting against gays a high priority. However, civil disobedience challenging a "sanctity of marriage" law already in place acted as a wake-up call to conservatives to really mobilize.
Generally, I'm a fan of non-violent civil disobedience to challenge government abuse, but I wonder if perhaps now was the wrong moment for it. Many heterosexuals may be sympathetic toward the issue of equal rights for gays, but being sympathetic toward the issue is far different than caring about the issue. And the Democratic Party may be the ultimate reflection of the attitude of sympathizing but not caring. They believe in equal rights for gays, but they aren't motivated enough to do anything about it.
It isn't as if the Republican arguments against gay marriage are so sound that they are hard to attack. The Republicans' stances against gay marriage provide all kinds of evidence of how mean, and just simply stupid, they are.
Arnold Schwarzeneggar thinks that gay marriage is as destructive to society as assault weapons and drugs. He says, "In San Francisco, it is license for marriage of same sex. Maybe the next thing is another city that hands out licenses for assault weapons and someone else hands out licenses for selling drugs." That quote is actually so stupid on its face that I don't need to provide additional commentary.
Bush's insistance upon enacting the sanctity of marriage is amusing. While he thinks that sanctity of marriage is protected by preventing mature, consenting adults from marrying, he apparently doesn't see any threat to the sanctity of marriage caused by his other marriage initiative (part of the welfare program) that pays unmarried parents, often teens, to get married, when they otherwise don't want to get married. That makes sense.
He also thinks it's important to have "clarity" in the "definition" of marriage. Apparently, the Consitution will now serve the fuction formerly served by Webster's Dictionary.
If the stunning intellectual dishonesty surrounding banning gay marriage doesn't get to you, and the overwhelmingly bad policy implications don't move you (less access to health insurance, fewer couples available to adopted the hundreds of thousands of homelss children), then know this. A Consitutional Amendment discriminating against a class of people is going to set a precedent for more, Constitutionally enshired discrimination against other classes of people. Everyone belongs to at least one minority or disadvantaged group. If you're not gay, you need to start thinking about which group membership you have which might be ripe for the next round of discrimination.