October 29, 2006
Nine days from today, Virginians will not only choose a senator and representatives, they will decide whether to ratify a proposed constitutional amendment that defines marriage as being exclusively between one man and one woman. In the good old days, that was just common sense, but nowadays it seems that all such social norms have to be codified in excruciating, absurd detail. For the record, I wrote in Feb. 2004, "tampering with the Constitution for such a purpose is almost as absurd as the notion of homosexual marriage itself." Now I'm not so sure. If there is no sense of restraint or willingness to compromise on the part of those pushing for "gay marriage rights," such a measure may just be necessary.
Leading the charge in favor of the proposed constitutional amendment is the Family Foundation Action, which runs the va4marriage.org Web site. They argue that the amendment is necessary in order to thwart the designs of liberal activist judges who presume to dictate on all matters of civil rights. As if to oblige those who feel that way, the New Jersey Supreme Court just ruled that existing marriage laws are discriminatory against gays, but left up to the state legislature whether to permit gay marriage or some lesser civil-union status. More fundamentally, those who favor a "yes" vote on the amendment warn that the institution of the family is under siege. I'm not so sure about that argument. I think it is obviously best when a child is raised by a married man and woman, but that does not mean that two men or two women could not raise a child in a healthier, more loving atmosphere than in an orphanage. Any adoptions by gay couples should be subject to a much heavier degree of scrutiny by social workers, however. Is that "discriminatory"? Yes, of course it is. Since the 1960s, most people have forgotten that discrimination based on reason and prudence is often a good and necessary thing.
Opposed to the amendment is the Commonwealth Coalition. They warn of all sorts of unforeseen consequences if the amendment is passed, and even unmarried heterosexual couples may suffer a loss of rights. (Well, maybe they should get married.) Even though the organization is clearly pro-gay marriage, much of their argument focuses on the second part of the proposed Marshall/Newman amendment, which forbids recognition of any legal status that approximates marriage. I wouldn't object to legal provisions that enable two people of whatever gender to share living quarters on a long-term basis, whether they are sleeping together or not. I don't worry about what people do in their private lives, as long as they are not taking advantage of or abusing vulnerable people. The question is whether such legal provisions would be the "foot in the door" leading to eventual full-fledged marriage, as many social conservatives fear. Opponents of this amendment would be more convincing if they could assure traditional-minded folks that such would not be the case.
This issue is a particularly hot one here in the Shenandoah Valley. In Harrisonburg, a worker (who happened to be a Hispanic immigrant) was fired by Cargill just because he was displaying a pro-amendment slogan on the back window of his pickup truck. Steve Kijak has been following that story. After loud protests, the company relented and gave him his job back. They probably thought they were staying away from trouble by banning political expression from the plant, and their risk-avoidance backfired. By coincidence, Sen. George Allen appeared at a pro-amendment rally on Friday soon after he had breakfast here in Staunton. Opponents of the amendment were loud and boisterous, even holding a mock lesbian wedding just to annoy the proponents. (That sort of thing certainly doesn't convince me.) See the Daily News Record.
There are similar measures on the ballot in several other states across the country. Opposition to the proposed amendment in Tennessee was voiced by Sam Venable (via Instapundit, who is often disdainful of social conservatives).
One line of "argument" that does not impress me at all is the derisive "How could you possibly vote for such a measure?" The implication, of course, is that all social conservatives are Neanderthals. I emphatically detest such elitist condescension. I happen to know quite a few social conservatives whose opposition to gay marriage is deep, principled, and sincere. Casually brushing off the earnest convictions held by a large portion of the American public is foolish. Granted, there are some political activists who use "wedge issues" such as abortion in a way that casts doubt on their sincerity. Such attitudes are not healthy for a a country at war, which desperately needs to restore a vital degree of unity.
This issue, of course, is the perfect illustration of the point made by former Sen. John Danforth in his book Faith and Politics (see Oct. 4). The more that political candidates seek to attract votes by hyping this issue, the further removed it becomes from personal morality. Sen. Allen's campaign ads have been hammering Jim Webb for opposing the marriage amendment lately, which I think is off base and which makes me less likely to vote for it. Much as I would like to register my annoyance with some of the activists on both sides of this issue, I think it is best to keep such deeply personal issues as far from the political arena as possible. So, I'll probably keep my final decision to myself. You might consider doing so, too.
Speaking of wedge issues, stem cell research is one of those complex, sensitive ethical questions that is simply not suitable for discussion in a political forum. Rush Limbaugh's callous comments about Michael J. Fox's campaign ads on behalf of the Democrat candidate for Senate in Missouri went way beyond the bounds of propriety. I happen to agree with him that the ailing actor's comments were misleading, but it doesn't excuse mocking a disease victim. It seemed that Rush spent all of last week trying to explain himself, wasting valuable air time just as the Fall 2006 campaign nears an end. Dumb, dumb, dumb.