Monday, June 5, 2006

Explain It To Me

Today President Bush urged Congress, just as he did in his Saturday morning radio address, to pass an amendment to the Constitution that would ban gay marriage.

As a gay American, I would like to have him explain a few things.

  • Explain it to me why, for the first time since 1919 and the ratification of the 18th Amendment that prohibited the manufacture and sale of liquor, we should change the Constitution to restrict the rights of citizens rather than expand them. It wasn’t a good idea then – it was repealed in less than fifteen years – and it’s not a good idea now. The Constitution should be an affirmative mandate for the rights of the people, not a bludgeon against them.
  • Explain to me why this amendment would not violate the First Amendment of the Constitution; specifically the Establishment of Religion clause. Marriage is, after all, a religious rite; according to the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, it was

    established by God in creation, and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee.

    So right there we have the Constitution defining a religious ceremony. The fact that our laws recognize civil marriage is merely an outgrowth of what is a religious sacrament.

    And while we’re on the subject of using the Constitution to define marriage, perhaps we should consider what else the Book of Common Prayer has to say about it:

    The union of 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 nurture 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.

    Granted, the Episcopal Church is still struggling with their own issues about gay marriage, but nowhere in this sacred rite does it say anything about marriage being the bulwark of American civilized society, nor is it envisioned by the church as anything other than a covenant between two people. So not only would this amendment violate the Establishment clause, it would demolish the intent of the ritual itself, turning marriage from a private matter into a weapon of social change. Isn’t that something that the conservative movement has accused the liberals of doing all these years?

  • Explain it to me why the Constitution should be used as an instrument of discrimination against an entire group of people based solely on something that they have no control over – their sexual orientation – any more than they have over their ethnicity. That would violate the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the United States Supreme Court said so when it ruled in 1967 in the case of Loving v. Virginia that overturned state laws that banned interracial marriage. The Court also said,

    Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.

    It would seem to me that again Mr. Bush is making the very anti-conservative argument of using the federal government and the Constitution as an instrument of social change. However, instead of providing more freedoms, such as the ruling of Roe v. Wade, Mr. Bush and the Republicans would use it to hold back the movement toward equal rights for people regardless of their sexual orientation.

  • Explain to me how “activist” it is for a judge to interpret the Constitution on its face as providing equal rights for all citizens? It is all too hypocritical for the president to decry judicial activism when it goes in favor of something he doesn’t like, yet applaud it when it is applied to a politically-motivated attempt to raise the dead and score points with his political base. (And while we’re on the subject of activist judges, if it weren’t for at least five of them Mr. Bush would most likely today be collecting his pension as the former governor of the state of Texas.)
  • Explain to me how two men or two women falling in love and making a legal commitment to each other threatens someone else’s marriage or the institution itself. As it is, marriage between heterosexuals is already in enough trouble — anyone who listens to country music could tell you that — so perhaps the idea of “marriage protection” ought to start there. And who are straight people to say that couples of the same sex aren’t as serious about marriage as they are? Ask Britney Spears, Mickey Rooney, Elizabeth Taylor, or any number of the Republican House and Senate who are writing multiple alimony checks how they can consider their multiple trips down the aisle or up to Reno to be paragons of marital solemnity. I’m not saying that homosexuals are any more virtuous than straight people, but at least don’t hold up heterosexual marriage as something that gay people could possibly tarnish any more than it already is.
  • Explain to me how anybody can stand up in front of the nation, advocate the passage of this amendment, and not sound like a homophobic bigot? How can the president stand up in front of members of his own party and his own administration who are homosexual and not sound like he isn’t singling them out for discrimination and reducing them to the rank of second-class citizenship? How can he stand up in front of Vice President Dick Cheney and tell him that his own daughter isn’t entitled to the same rights as the straight people in America?

    The rights that we enjoy as American citizens are binary: we either have them or we do not. If you take away one of them, you take away all of them. A citizen may lose his rights through due process of law, but to deny the attainment of these rights at the outset based on something as innate as sexual orientation and without due process is an assault on the very idea of liberty and the foundation of law that defines us not just as a nation but as a civilization.

    What’s even worse is that there is no other purpose behind this fatuous “Marriage Protection Amendment” than politics. It is no secret that the right wing and the Religious Reich are not happy with the president at the moment, so he is doing this just to fan the bonfire of their sanctimonious bigotry in the hope of re-electing Republicans next fall. What’s even more disturbing is that everyone from both parties knows that this amendment will never get enough votes to be sent to the states for ratification. So why, with a war of their own making dissolving beyond chaos, with gasoline prices soaring, with a budget deficit soaring to the moon, is the president and his party wasting our time by engaging in an act of political masturbation? (Or more correctly, an act of sodomy against the Constitution.)

    It’s simple. Nothing matters more to this president than being president; nothing matters more to the Republicans than being in office, and if sacrificing the rights of a several million queer people to do it, it’s a small price to pay for their grip on power.

    That explains a great deal.

    [Updated with minor edits.]