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Friday, June 09, 2006

Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

I would like to critique a few of the arguments I have heard over the past few weeks against the Federal Marriage Amendment.

1. "Gay marriage is a state's rights issue."


When conservatives make this argument, I think they are counting on the fact that a majority of people in this country (although that majority appears to be slowly dwindling) will currently vote to define marriage as between a man and a woman only. Even in my great state of Oregon, the state that has brought you doctor assisted suicide and medical marijuana, the state that has one of the most liberal universities (Go Ducks) and one of the most "godless" cities (City of Roses) in the nation, has managed to convince a majority of the population to vote discrimination into its marriage laws. Thus, conservatives lose relatively little when they play the state's rights card concerning gay marriage. They get to give the appearance that they respect the constitutional principals of this country while at the same time they can be rest assured that very few states will currently vote to allow gay marriage.

When liberals make this argument, I think they mean well but they are missing the big picture. Yes, I agree that we currently stand a much better chance of getting a few states to legalize gay marriage than we do any federal recognition. And it could be that once a few states come on board, the dominoes may begin to fall and more and more states will gradually legalize gay marriage. But what about those states that don't want to play along? Will we be content with segregating gays to certain parts of the country? It seems to me we already settled the segregation issue a few decades ago, and it took the Federal courts, the Supreme Court and National Guard to enforce it.

Gay marriage is ultimately a federal issue, not a state's rights issue. Yes, it may look bleak at the moment now that Bush has changed the make-up of the Supreme Court, but the only way homosexuals will be guaranteed complete equality is if all states are forced to recognize them as equal citizens in this country. We don't allow states to vote on legalizing racial discrimination, so why would we even consider allowing states the right to vote on discrimination based on sexual orientation? Equality should not be left to the whims of the bigoted majority, it should be protected and enforced because it is a basic human right. When we finally do gain back control of a branch of government, I want to see a constitutional amendment that guarantees everyone equal protection and rights regardless of sexual orientation. No more lip service, let's actually do something about it. Unfortunately, I'm not holding my breath.

2. "The amendment isn't going to pass. We are wasting our time debating it."

It is definitely true that most Republicans are using this issue purely for political ends. There is no doubt they intend to use their opponent's vote against this amendment to imply that their opponent is part of the "gay agenda", just as racists called their opponents "nigger lovers" when fighting the civil rights movement. And they indeed did know that it had no chance of passing the Senate. But this in itself is not an argument against the Federal Marriage Amendment, this is merely an astute observation about how low some politicians will go to pander to their homophobic base.

The real argument against the Federal Marriage Amendment is not that it is a waste of time because it won't pass the Senate, but rather that it is wrong because everyone deserves to be treated equally and given the same privileges under the law. It is fine to point out that the proponents of this amendment are wasting everyone's time because it has no chance of passing, but you can't stop there. Unless you are willing to defend the rights of homosexuals to be treated equally under the law, you aren't really in support of equality. And I have a suspicion that a lot of the Senators who voted against the FMA would not be willing to make that all important next step. So while this was indeed a waste of time in one sense, it was an opportune time to come out in support of equality for everyone, which it seems to me very few Senators actually did.

3. "We don't want to put discrimination into the Constitution."

While I completely agree that the last thing we want to do is amend the Constitution to legalize discrimination, I can't help but feel that this argument is too specific and thus allows convenient loopholes for those who don't really support gay rights. For example, there are many Senators who voted against the amendment but are perfectly fine with allowing states to decide to discriminate against homosexuals. Thus, technically, they don't want discrimination written into the Constitution, they just want the Constitution to be neutral on the matter so that the states can decide for themselves.

It is fine to point out that Constitutional amendments have historically been used to expand rights, not take them away, but unless you are willing to apply that concept across the board to all law making bodies, you aren't really in support of equality for everyone, you've left the door open for discrimination at a lower level. Instead of saying that "We don't want to put discrimination into our Constitution", we should be saying "We don't want to put discrimination into any law in this country, whether local, state or Federal".


I'm certainly glad that the Federal Marriage Amendment died in the Senate. I'm just not so convinced that everyone who voted against it did so because they really believe in equality for all. While I understand that politics makes strange bedfellows and sometimes you have to scratch a few backs, I really long for a strong united front that isn't afraid to proclaim that equality for everyone, including those "perverted homosexuals", is a basic human right that needs to be protected at all levels of government. And if the Democratic Party can't manage to support that simple idealistic notion, then they might as well call themselves Republicans for all I care.
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