Saturday, January 10, 2004

Making Amends

Matthew Yglesias at Tapped looks at the contortions the right wing is going through to get the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA) into the Constitution.

There’s nothing remotely democratic about a constitutional amendment barring state legislatures from allowing gay and lesbian couples to get married. What’s really going on here is that conservatives know they’re losing this fight. Gay marriage remains unpopular, but on all other fronts support for gay rights has been growing strongly in recent years. Meanwhile, young people are far more supportive of gay marriage than are our elders, putting time firmly on the side of the left. A constitutional amendment today, however, would lock the public opinion of 2004 in stone for decades to come, as amendments are incredibly hard to repeal. If you’d passed a Federal Anti-Miscegenation Amendment back in 1956, interracial unions might still be illegal today.

Every time there is some sort of cultural activity that “shocks and outrages” the right wing, the first thing they do is propose a constitutional amendment. The anti-flag burning amendment pops up every so often to quash the wide-spread epidemic of flag-burning that rages across the country. [Trolls – that was sarcasm.]

As I’ve pointed out in a previous post, the FMA would be the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution since Prohibition that would specifically limit the rights of citizens. I’m also slightly curious as to what would happen if there was an amendment that was at odds with another amendment, such as the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Wouldn’t they cancel each other out?

Regardless of the legal microscopy, the idea of the FMA is just plain un-American for one simple reason. It codifies a religious doctrine into the fabric of American law. After all, according to the 1977 edition of The Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church:

The union of a husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nuture in the knowledge and love of the Lord. Therefore marriage is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God.

The word “marriage” is the catch. It’s loaded with both religious and secular meaning. Marriage has the same legal impact if it happens in St. Patrick’s Cathedral with all the trappings of sacraments and ritual or if the couple goes down to the county clerk’s office on their lunch hour and has a judge perform the ceremony with all the formality of a real estate closing. The result is the same – a formal promise and commitment on the part of each person to care for each other. That’s it. (Note, by the way, that having children comes in third on the list of reasons for getting married – at least according to the Episcopalians.) To me, that transcends religious and legal obligation. It empowers and enriches the basic human decency that we or any civilized society aspire to. We don’t need an amendment for that, and if we did, we are in far more trouble than any law – or church – can repair.