As I worked on my piece yesterday on HRC President Joe Solmonese’s silly letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, I found the post growing in the writing. What began as mild mockery of an activist for insulting a man he was (ostensibly) trying to influence became, in part, an expression of my support of a public debate on amending the constitution to define marriage.
While I oppose Senator Frist’s proposed amendment, I do agree with what one thing he said in the 2004 Senate debate on the issue. “The question before us is fundamental: should marriage remain the union of husband and wife?” He’s right; the question is fundamental. And such a fundamental quesiton requires serious debate.
Those who advocate gay marriage should welcome such a debate. If they believe, that it’s (to use one of the terms they’re fond of) about “basic fairness,” then with solid arguments they should be able to convince a majority of the American people of the wisdom of their position. As these advocates present their case, those now opposed to (or skeptical of) changing the centuries-old definition of marriage will realize that individuals who want to marry someone of their own gender, enter into such a union by accepting its responsibilities in order to secure its benefits. Good arguments could make it easier to change their minds.
These advocates need to bear in mind that they’re proposing a significant social change. And there has always been opposition, some sensible, some not-so-sensible, to such changes. While many cultures have recognized same-sex unions throughout human history, I am (as of yet) unaware of single one (until the past decade or so) that used the same term for such unions as it did for those joining two individuals of the opposite sex.
We’re in this situation we are now (with many states amending their constitutions to ban gay marriage and with Congress considering such an amendment to the federal constitution) because some gay-marriage advocates tried to bypass public debate and force the change through the courts.
When these advocates got a Hawaii court to agree to change that definition, Hawaii’s citizens moved to amend their state constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Through popular referenda and legislative action, a whole host of states followed suit. Momentum for a federal constitutional amendment only picked up steam after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court required the Bay State to recognize same-sex unions as marriage.
While “troubled by any constitutional amendment that is not about democratic governance.” Charles Krauthammer believed that gay-marriage “activists have forced the issue. What is the alternative to nationalized gay marriage imposed by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts?” Peggy Noonan agrees, seeing the president’s support of “the marriage amendment [as] a decision to join a battle that had already begun. Massachusetts’ courts and San Francisco’s mayor forced his hand.“
Thus, Andrew Sullivan got it wrong*. Those who advocated amending the federal constitution to define marriage were not declaring war; they were merely joining the debate.
It seemed odd to me that someone, as gifted in debate as Andrew, by responding to the president’s pronouncement with such venom, would ally himself with those angry voices on the left who see all opposition as animosity. To be sure, some of the opponents of gay marriage don’t have a very favorable opinion of gay people. Others, however, have legitimate concerns about expanding the definition of marriage. The president’s statement (announcing his support of a constitutional amendment defining marriage) clearly puts him in the latter camp.
The president, like many opponents of gay marriage (including, to some extent, yours truly) has serious reservations about changing the definition of an age old institution. Marriage evolved as in institution uniting individuals of the opposite sex into a lifelong partnership. Thus, we should understand why some may have serious reservations about altering that institution.
In the 2000 Vice Presidential debate, then-candidate Dick Cheney (who, like me, disagrees with his the president on amending the constitution) recognized the difficulty of the issue. While many advocates of gay marriage herald the first part of his statement on the question of same sex unions, “freedom means freedom for everybody,” few of those advcoates noted what he said right after that.
He acknowledged that “the question . . . whether or not there ought to be some kind of official sanction of [same-sex] relationships or if they should be treated the same as a traditional marriage” is “ a tougher problem” than the question of allowing people to enter into whatever kind of relationship they wanted to. (Emphasis added.) I agree with the Cheney’s further comments that this issue should be left to the states.
And while I also agree with the First Lady what we should not make gay marriage a campaign issue, I welcome a national debate on gay marriage. If its advocates are really serious about their cause, they too should welcome such a debate as it would more readily bring that issue to the attention of the American people.
It’s unfortunate that too many gay activists attempt to bypass that debate by calling their opponents (on this issue) names or accusing them of declaring war. Instead of such angry rhetoric, they should respond with serious arguments. And who knows, in making such arguments, they might change a few minds.
Senator Frist is right. This is a fundamental question. I, for one, am eager to engage in a serious conversation on the topic. And I invite supporters of gay marriage to join me.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com
*It was this post which began the process of turning me from a regular reader of his blog into a frequent critic.