Wednesday, July 14, 2004


Senate Scuttles Gay Marriage Amendment

Of course, today's vote pleases me. The fact that Senator "Dog-on-man-action" Santorum couldn't round up even half the Senate to support the FMA is a great sign.

I'm going to go out on an optimistic limb and say that, despite the protests of conservatives, this is the end of this issue in terms of any serious possibility of the amendment being passed. Certainly, vigilance will remain necessary for a while; conservatives will still stump about this in the South and try to use it as a wedge to get out the vote. But today's result reflects a growing consensus that an amendment is a terrible idea. The L.A. Times, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and the Chicago Tribune, among others, have all said, for different reasons, that the amendment should never be passed.

That's a lot of newspapers. They reach a lot of citizens, and the opinions expressed in them aren't often so out of the mainstream that they'd offend people into canceling their subscriptions. The country is coming around on this issue; more accurately, perhaps, the country is deciding this is not really an issue worth getting worked up about. That may not be the optimum position for those of us who wish the Senate had been voting to allow gay marriage nationwide, but overwhelming indifference and acceptance today will eventually turn into judicial and legislative solutions to the special difficulties that face same-sex couples. As the L.A. Times points out, six years ago the notion that gay marriage would ever happen seemed crazy, despite the struggles of the gay community to find a way to make do without it; today the notion that gays are entitled to some form of legally-recognized partnership is not only an article of liberal faith but an idea around which a growing number of Americans are reaching consensus. If that legal partnership is achieved state-by-state in the courts, it will be the result not of majority will against such a partnership but of the concerted efforts of a dedicated few demagogues who oppose it.

All of which is to say that, a year after Lawrence v. Texas paved the way for a new future for gay and lesbian Americans, our path to that future looks rosier than I'd ever have imagined the day I started down it. While things may not be as good as we wish and deserve them to be, they are better by far than we had any reason to expect. Today, that gives me a reason to hope--and a reason to smile.


McKenzie said...

its unfortunate that the reason so many are giving to not voting for the FMA is that its a state issue and shouldn't be in the constitution.

Hopefully that leaves the door open for people to come around to accepting and wanting gay marriage to be legal, rather than simply being against having it in the constitution.

But its definitely a step in the right direction.

Richard said...

I agree with you, and I wish those who oppose the amendment all did so because they disagree with the sentiment, not the method for carrying it out.

However, I also think the states' rights argument is more a matter of political expedience than belief for most of the people who claim it. It would be wonderful to see some leadership from Senators who, in their hearts, believe that gays and lesbians deserve the same treatment under the law as everyone else. For now, they're simply too afraid of offending voters to speak so plainly, but I believe that most of the people who voted against considering the amendment did so on its merits, or lack thereof, rather than on the basis of any concern about federalism. They'll come around eventually.

Richard said...

Only in's Star Tribune eloquently expresses the same sentiments Brian offered yesterday:

Editorial: Over for now/Gay marriage sadly politicized
July 15, 2004 ED0715A
Polls have shown that while Americans aren't ready to embrace same-sex marriage, they aren't necessarily hankering to enshrine their misgivings in the U.S. Constitution. Neither, it turns out, are enough U.S. senators to pull it off. For that the nation should be grateful. The same-sex marriage ban that failed on a procedural vote Wednesday would have sullied the Constitution -- which heretofore has been amended to expand rights, not to whittle them.

People's views on gay marriage, as on earlier issues such as interracial marriage, evolve. The reasoning of court rulings, such as the one handed down last year in Massachusetts, will spur Americans to think about gay marriage in ways they hadn't -- as an issue of equality, as the desire to create a socially and legally sanctioned family, as a wish to be accepted as ordinary citizens taking on rights and responsibilities.

Thinking in those ways about gay marriage makes clear how convoluted are GOP arguments that a gay-marriage ban "supports marriage and the family."

Gay unions exist. Gay families exist. Granting them legal status would not destroy the institution of marriage, nor would it hurt existing socially sanctioned families.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Wednesday's vote was procedural; while it showed too little support for moving ahead on the amendment, the message was muddled. Some senators want to leave the issue to the states. Some don't want to amend the Constitution for virtually any reason. Others see the effort as an exercise in election-year wedge politics.

Muddled or not, the defeat has to be embarrassing to President Bush, who pressed hard for the amendment, and for other GOP leaders who'd hoped to energize their base and embarrass Democrats by forcing a vote. Some Republicans refused to play ball, including Sen. John McCain, who said the amendment "will not be adopted by Congress this year, nor next year, nor any time soon . . . ." He thinks it "usurps from the states a fundamental authority they have always possessed," which is the position of many Democrats as well.

That reasoning about the amendment, while welcome, doesn't get at the heart of the matter. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court looked at gay marriage as an issue of equality. Americans aren't used to thinking about it that way. But as time passes and more people come to know gay couples as the increasingly visible, ordinary citizens that they are -- as neighbors and coworkers, as friends, relatives, fellow parishioners and fellow school parents -- we believe they will come to see that conferring marriage status on such families only strengthens the social fabric.

Stable families are in society's interest. Two-parent families, whatever their gender, are in a child's interest. Granting legal status to couples who wish to take lifelong marriage vows would underscore the value society places on long-term commitments.

But this is not a year for reflection on the merits of gay marriage. It is a year for winning or losing, for political posturing, attack ads and appeals to constituencies considered vital to success Nov. 2. That's a pity, because this issue deserves the kind of soul-searching that led to women's suffrage, to the civil rights laws of the 1960s, and to the end of laws banning interracial marriage.

Maybe next year.