The Salem News
Thursday, February 19, 2004
For those of you who just came out of a hole in the ground to see your February shadow, a constitutional convention was called on Beacon Hill this month to address, among other things, an amendment to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
I was trying to avoid this issue, but one of the other things was an amendment to increase the number of signatures required for an initiative petition. State Sen. Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst, has been obsessed with the desire to kill the initiative process and insisted on dropping his murderous effort into the middle of the marriage debate.
So I can't resist combining the two issues in order to say "I told you so" to legislators who should have voted on the Defense of Marriage act (DOMA) when it was on the 2002 convention agenda as an initiative petition. If they had given the petition the required 50 votes, the issue would probably be on this November's ballot and resolved, one way or another, by the voters.
Instead, proponents had to start all over with a legislative amendment that can't make it to the ballot until 2006. If the legislature rejects the amendment, proponents will probably start another initiative petition for the 2008 ballot. Either way, we have years of distracting debate ahead of us.
Could we at least keep the debate rational?
I say this despite a statement from John O'Sullivan, editor of the National Review. "A society that seeks to root all its laws in consciously derived rational-critical principles, and to ignore the promptings of moral intuition, will soon find itself wandering down the blind alley of nihilism ... we will find ourselves terribly satisfied at our own clever debating as we walk into a trackless swamp, starting nervously at the cackling sounds of the night."
I love that imagery, and partly agree, but nevertheless, the mind is a terrible thing to waste. So here are arguments on both sides of the DOMA debate I hope not to hear again:
l "God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." If we take the Biblical perspective, we must ask, "And then what happened?" The first married couple disobeyed God, got kicked out of Eden, their elder son murdered their second son, a later son must have married his sister in order to get the human race started - is this what we're supposed to hold up as the ideal? Besides, at some point, God also did make Steve. Or did he?
l "Gay marriage is a civil rights issue." This depends on whether God made people homosexual from birth. It was almost resolved several years ago, when an early genetic study showed a "gay gene." If that is the case, sexual orientation would be like race, an inherent condition requiring civil rights. But nooooo. Radical gay activists were incensed by this proposition, and insisted that being gay could be a "choice," thereby re-terrifying parents who understandably don't want their sons solicited by anyone who might be carrying AIDS.
You can't have it both ways, gays. Either you are homosexual the way you are black, white, male or female, or this is not a civil rights issue.
l "If society lets two men marry, it will have to let people marry their pets." Not unless it finds a pet that can sign a contract, it won't. I don't know about your dog, but my cats won't sign anything they haven't read.
l "We shouldn't put this issue in the state constitution." Who's "we?" The Supreme Judicial Court, which just did? I don't think John Adams thought that people of the same sex should marry. The SJC also once said that legislative rules are none of the people's business, and that, in the Amirault case, closure is more important than justice. Forgive me if I suspect that the SJC is generally clueless.
I don't have much emotional connection with the DOMA issue, myself. I have gay friends who have been together longer than I was married to two husbands, and I wish them equal rights. I also can't seem to work through the issue intellectually. If the purpose of marriage is perpetuating the species, it seems that when a straight couple neglects its children, society might want two nice gay men to adopt the unwanted kids.
But the statement by John O'Sullivan haunts me. My moral intuition and love of linguistics say that words must have meaning that is respected, and "marriage" has always meant a man and a woman. During President's Month, it might be good to recall Abraham Lincoln's observation that, if you call a tail a leg, a dog still has only four legs.
This support for tradition should not be equated, as it often was during the first Con-Con debate, with racism or fascism. In the end, let's hope that voters will define the issue by its many decent proponents and opponents, not by the fringe elements on both sides whose name-calling drowns out their arguments and hurts their cause.
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem
News and Lowell Sun; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in the Providence
Journal and other newspapers.