July 15, 2004
Three cheers for the Senate for rejecting the proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. President Bush and many Republican leaders are using the issue as an election-year ploy.
The original version of this ill-conceived amendment went further than a ban on marriage. It also stated that nothing in the Constitution, nor the constitution of any state, should require that any "legal incidence" of marriage be conferred on gay couples.
Translation: Forget about civil unions and domestic partner protections, too. As Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., noted, the amendment went against the traditional conservative position that the federal government should never try to micromanage what states do.
The amendment's backers, however, introduced an 11th-hour alternative that would have stripped away the legalese. It reduced the amendment to a simpler expression of what it really is: election-year gay-bashing. But that failed, too.
The White House and conservative leaders don't seem to have noticed that the arrival of marriage rights for gay couples hasn't exactly made the sky fall.
Countries like Canada began legalizing full marriage equality -- which doesn't tell religious institutions what to do, but instead provides full legal equality -- more than a year ago, and many same-sex couples in Massachusetts began marrying on May 17.
Social conservatives like to claim that gay couples tying the knot pose some kind of threat to straight couples, but the reality is that these developments are a step forward for everyone. They represent our continuing ability to fulfill the promise of equality for all.
Compared to that inspirational ideal, the motives of those pushing the amendment are cynical and ugly.
President Bush, for example, has made the amendment a political priority. In recent days, he actively stumped for it, stating that "changing the definition of traditional marriage will undermine the family structure."
The Federal Marriage Amendment is what really undermines our country and our values. The amendment is a wedge issue meant to distract and divide American voters during a close election. It is also a sign of campaign jitters on the part of a White House that is struggling to appeal to its core voters on the far right when it ought to be in a position to court the majority in the middle.
Election-year sales pitches like this are nothing new, but this one is particularly low. It would tamper with a document that has served our country for more than two centuries for the sake of political advantage this November.
Our Constitution should not be politicized. The document was designed to protect and expand liberty and equality -- not to limit or deny them. While it's true that a majority of Americans currently opposes state laws allowing same-sex marriage, a majority also opposes a constitutional amendment banning them.
The Senate, at last, understood that. Now maybe it can attend to more pressing issues.
Christopher Ott is a writer in Madison, Wis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.