Thursday, February 17, 2005

On marriage

I believe marriage is a wonderful tradition and institution that should be encouraged and strengthened. Marriage creates a partnership of mutual support that removes burden from the state. Marriage reinforces monogamous relationships. Marriage is a commitment that is not entered into lightly, nor exited easily. I believe that the responsibilities and benefits of marriage should be extended to gay couples. Marriage is the truly conservative solution.

The slippery-slope argument against gay marriage leading to polygamy, bestiality, or incest is a disgusting red herring. That false argument could even be construed to argue against straight marriage: If a man and a woman are allowed to marry, what's to prevent a woman from marrying her grandfather? What's to prevent a man from marrying a female animal?

Various states set different ages of consent. Some states allow first cousins to marry, some don't. No states allow polygamy. No states allow humans to marry non-humans. Family law already delineates responsibilities and rights for siblings, children, parents, and grandparents. Marriages between other than consenting adults are wrong, not because of the gender of the spouses, but because of the inequality of the relationship. A child does not have the emotional maturity to consent to a marriage. An animal cannot consent to a marriage. Polygamy has inevitably resulted in abuse. Multiple spouses will by definition be treated unequally. No respectable person or group is asking to change the age of consent, closeness of kinship, number of spouses, or other limits on marriage.

Some argue that civil unions are the right path. Civil Unions are untenable mainly because they are not already defined in the law. Adding the term "Civil Union" to the law as an equal alternative to marriage would require new individual votes to change every one of the thousands of federal and state laws that concern marriage or married couples. Any one law that is not changed denies full equality to gays or lesbians who would marry.

Others argue that the issues still need to be worked out, but that in the meantime, marriage should not be permanently denied with a Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA). Additionally, the proposed FMA includes language that can be interpreted to not only deny marriage, but potentially any other recognition of the protections and obligations gay couples deserve. It could even be interpreted to nullify any contractual agreements between gay couples, as Virginia is now experiencing with their new anti-marriage amendment. The FMA language under consideration the US Senate (SJR-1) reads:

Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution or the constitution of any State, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.

The option of marriage or other type of union for gay or lesbian couples must not be denied forever in a document so fundamental and dear to our hearts as the US Constitution. Indeed, the FMA is not even necessary: the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) signed into law by President Clinton in 1996 already defines marriage as a man and a woman for purposes of federal law, and allows states to decline to recognize gay marriages performed in other states. Several state courts have upheld the constitutionality of DOMA. Many states have also implemented their own versions of DOMA.

Even states that already have DOMA laws on the books are considering amending their constitutions to deny not only marriage, but to further deny any recognition of committed gay couples' rights and responsibilities. Take for instance the Utah constitutional amendment:

Marriage consists only of the legal union between a man and a woman. No other domestic union, however denominated, may be recognized as a marriage or given the same or substantially equivalent legal effect.

I and most gays who support marriage are not asking that the government define religious marriage, or require any religious institution to sanctify gay religious marriages. However, I also respect the few denominations, such as the mostly-gay Metropolitan Community Church, which already bless gay marriages. The government should not interfere with those religions or denominations who choose to marry gay couples. Many religions already freely refuse to marry certain couples, for reasons of past divorce, differing faith of one or both of the couple, or for other reasons. In fact, I would support any religious organization facing government requirements to recognize or perform a marriage that ran counter to their teachings.

President Reagan's last wish was, "Whatever else history may say about me when I'm gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears." However, exclusionary far-right activists have made a cold, calculated decision to use voters' fear of gays or gay marriage as a wedge issue to drive fair-minded people from the Republican party, attack my family, and divide Americans. Fear does not win elections. Despite what the left would have you believe, most good Christians are tolerant of gays and lesbians. The American voter is a fair-minded person.

I firmly believe in the basic values of the Republican Party: limited government, strong national defense, personal responsibility, free markets, lower taxes and fiscal responsibility, equality of opportunity, etc. But when the Republican party acts in intolerant, exclusionary ways, voters will eventually recoil from it. The culture wars launched at the 1992 GOP convention elected President Clinton as Republicans defected to Ross Perot. Pat Buchanan eventually left the Republican party in defeat.

During a CNN Larry King Live interview on August 12th, 2004 President Bush supported the rights of states to decide to offer some type of recognition of gay unions short of marriage.

KING: What about the union of gays?

G. BUSH: Well, that's up to states, you know. If states choose to do that, in other words, if they want to provide legal protections for gays, that's great. That's fine.

Speaking on August 24th, 2004 in Iowa, VP Cheney also re-iterated his 2000 statement from a debate with Sen. Lieberman supporting recognition of gay unions:

Historically that's been a relationship that's been handled by the states, states have made the basic fundamental decision what constitutes a marriage. I made clear four years ago when this question came up in my debate with Joe Lieberman that my view was that that's appropriately a matter for the states to decide and that's how it ought to be handled.

The 2004 Republican platform went far beyond simply endorsing the FMA. It ignored President Bush's and VP Cheney's remarks supporting other forms of gay unions, and ignores the plight of children of gay or lesbian parents.

[A]nd we believe that neither federal nor state judges and bureaucrats should force states to recognize other living arrangements as equivalent to marriage. We believe, and the social science confirms, that the well being of children is best accomplished in the environment of the home, nurtured by their mother and father anchored by the bonds of marriage. We further believe that the legal recognition and accompanying benefits should be preserved for the unique and special union of one man and one woman which has historically been called marriage.

The FMA failed in both the US House and Senate in 2004. Since the election, President Bush has recognized the continued lack of support for the FMA. The Republican Party must support the President and remove the non-conservative denial of marriage from its next platform, and its candidates must stop alienating moderates and conservatives who support the benefits and responsibilities of marriage for gays or lesbians. Continued attacks on segments of the American family will make Republican candidates unelectable for a generation. Democrats will gain control over the levers of power, destroying the basic principles that make this country great. All for what? Because a few voices of intolerance in the Republican party are attempting to deny a few thousand loving, committed couples the legal recognition they deserve.

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