Sunday, July 18, 2004

Election 2004: Issue #1- The Constitutional Amendment To Ban Gay Marriage

Bush-Cheney: Support it
Kerry-Edwards: Oppose it

Despite the fact that the proposed Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage has been portrayed in the media as a complex issue, the legal and moral arguments are surprisingly straight forward and clearly aligned with those who oppose such a ban. Here’s why:

1. Much of the rhetoric used by proponents of the Constitutional Amendment appeals to notions of the “sacredness” of marriage between a man and a woman and other religious themes. Fortunately, in America our laws are not based on Biblical rules. The separation of church and state is no less than the bedrock of the Constitution itself.

2. America is founded on the principles of individual liberty. A Constitutional Amendment banning gay marriage would forbid any state legislature from ever enacting pro-gay marriage laws. In order to usurp the democratic rights of the citizenry in such a sweeping fashion, our system requires that there be an overwhelming preponderance of evidence showing that allowing gays to marry would cause direct harm to other members of the public. Not a single party has offered any credible evidence to this effect.

It is important to point out that the opponents of gay marriage are using this issue as little more than a smokescreen for denying gays a much broader set of rights. President Bush has yet to state whether he supports full legal rights for gays under the title of “civil unions,” which Kerry supports. It appears that the President is trying his best to avoid the issue, since his core constituency would be very upset if he took this position. Hopefully, during the debates, he will be asked exactly where he stands.

Since it is virtually impossible to make a convincing argument that heterosexual couples would suffer damages if gay couples were able to marry, almost all of the rhetoric from opponents rests on the notion that children will be harmed if they are raised by gay people. The problem with this argument is that millions of gays already have children, and will continue to do so regardless of whether they are legally married or not. In addition, there is no evidence that these children are any worse off than children of heterosexuals.

Many opponents of gays simply choose not to say openly that they believe gay men and women should not be allowed to raise children, and they are trying to use the gay marriage issue as a way to make it more difficult for gays to raise a family. Ironically, many of these groups are self-proclaimed proponents of families and “family values.” Again, President Bush has yet to make his position clear for fear of offending the religious right. Although he talks about how “people can do what they want in the privacy of their bedrooms,” this is simply not the issue. The issue is full legal rights, guaranteed and sanctioned by the state with respect to health benefits, child-rearing, hospital visitation, inheritance and the like.

Perhaps more important in this debate, but often overlooked, is the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in 2003 prohibiting states from making gay sex a criminal offense. If there had been a single additional right-wing Supreme Court Justice on the bench, it would still be legal in Texas (and many other states) to jail a man or woman for having consensual gay sex in the privacy of their own home. That is close to tyranny and should give each and every American pause. Bush has stated openly that Scalia and Thomas are his model Supreme Court Justices, so there is every reason to believe that if he gets to appoint new Justices during a second term that gay rights will be eroded. Again, hopefully, Bush will be forced during the debates to state his position in direct terms on this issue.

In summary, it has primarily been the GOP, driven by religious extremists, that has tried to deny gays their rights. By supporting the radical step of trying to amend the Constitution in order to prevent gays from ever being able to marry, anywhere in America, the President has sided with the extremists. As John McCain said, the amendment to ban gay marriage is “antithetical in every way to the core philosophy of Republicans,” as there is nothing conservative nor principled about it. Those in the GOP who value the integrity of their party need to realize that the religious right is hardly a fringe element, but central to the current GOP apparatus and President Bush’s re-election bid. Although Kerry is also opposed to gay marriage, he has called for full equal rights for gay couples and strongly opposed the amendment to ban gay marriage. On this issue reason, justice and American ideals rest firmly in his camp.

J.S.

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