A Question of Amending

Two cheers for Marianne Means. She put it rather well when she asks, “Why put social issues in the Constitution?”. Only once in our history has our government amended the constitution for a social issue, when we outlawed alchohol. Now, George Bush wants it to be his legacy that gay marriage is banned in the constitution. Why?

You can read Marianne’s article by clicking here.Friday, December 26, 2003

Keep social issues out of Constitution

By MARIANNE MEANS
SYNDICATED COLUMNIST

WASHINGTON — The Constitution is a precious document that has endured for more than 200 years as our greatest democratic bulwark because it speaks to the essentials of good government structure: justice, freedom and fairness; a balance between federal and local rights; and the separation of church and state.

It is no place to embed social and cultural issues.

The Constitution was amended once to force Americans to conform to an idealistic vision of individual morality when, in 1919, the sale of liquor was banned. The demand for permanent sobriety was so unrealistic that the law was widely defied and criminal booze smuggling spread across the country. Mercifully, the amendment was repealed after 14 years.

Now President Bush wants to try a second constitutional experiment in mandating private behavior. It, too, is a bad idea.

Acutely conscious that the Republican Party is a wholly owned subsidiary of the religious right, Bush recently waded into the controversy over what legal rights gay couples should have. Although there’s already a federal law defining marriage as the union of a man and woman, conservative Republicans busily are promoting the notion of putting that language into the Constitution. The president volunteered that he would support such an amendment, even though it is not clear how it would be worded.

By contrast, the Democratic presidential hopefuls all support civil unions that would confer legal rights now denied to same-sex couples. It would enable them to inherit property, divide responsibilities for children and property and confer social recognition of a partnership.

As governor of Vermont, Howard Dean signed a bill legalizing civil unions, although he did so furtively.

Few public figures are prepared to advocate the use of the word “marriage,” which is the emotional barrier for many Americans otherwise tolerant of homosexuality. To many liberals, marriage is a legal issue. To many conservatives, marriage is a religious issue.

Bush’s position is oddly confusing. While he would back a proposed constitutional amendment, he would also leave to the states “whatever legal arrangements people want to make.” What “legal arrangements” is he talking about? Does he not understand that if the Constitution forbids it, the states would not be free to approve same-sex marriages, whether they use that exact word or a euphemism such as civil unions?

Asked specifically about civil unions, Bush uttered one of his fuzzy answers, saying it was a state issue “unless judicial rulings undermine the sanctity of marriage.”

Conservative religious organizations contend that recognizing same-sex couples would be a threat to traditional heterosexual marriages. But it is a stretch to come up with a rational — as opposed to emotional — reason why.

The implied policy acceptance of homosexuality if coupling is legalized does not devalue the commitment of a man and woman in love. It has nothing to do with their relationship. It merely confirms another dimension to the diversity of modern life.

In a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, 55 percent of those surveyed said they favored a constitutional ban against gay marriage, a sentiment that has been increasing since a Massachusetts court ruled in November that the state constitution permitted such unions. That ruling followed a stunning decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in June declaring anti-sodomy laws unconstitutional.

The reasoning of those who opposed gay marriage ranged from religious objections to inarticulate anguish.

“I don’t want my children to start getting ideas,” one man said. Yet if they don’t already have “ideas,” they are living in a bubble. Homosexuality is no longer a taboo on television. Nor is it a partisan issue. Both Vice President Dick Cheney and Democratic presidential candidate Richard Gephardt have lesbian daughters.

Engraving an anti-homosexual message in the Constitution would be a sorry legacy for the Bush administration. The president should be ashamed of himself for even thinking about trivializing the Constitution in this way.
Marianne Means is a Washington, D.C., columnist with Hearst Newspapers. Copyright 2003 Hearst Newspapers. She can be reached at 202-298-6920 or marianne@hearstdc.com

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