Friday, June 09, 2006

Marriage and civil rights

Marriage has no place in the United States Constitution. That document, the foundation of our democracy, has existed for 217 years with nary a mention of this venerable, centuries-old institution. And we have to keep it that way.

There's no doubt that the traditional institution of marriage is in trouble. What was once viewed as a lifetime bond between a man and a woman — a bond some viewed as ordained, even preordained, by God — has become something of a transient social arrangement. Half of all marriages end in divorce. This has far-ranging negative implications for our society — and our economy. But what's ailing marriage isn't about to be cured by a constitutional amendment banning some people who want to get married from being able to do so.

Yet that's precisely the reason why the president says we should amend the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage — to "protect" the institution of marriage. What malarkey. But what did we expect him to say — that he's advocating the so-called marriage amendment to shore up his standing among right-wing religious fundamentalists? Not likely, even though that's obviously exactly what he's doing. It's infuriating — though not surprising — that the president would exploit this hot-button issue to make political hay, to try galvanize "the right" around this emotionally charged topic on the eve of congressional elections when control of the House will be at stake. The GOP needs the support of conservatives to hang onto the House; George has thrown the right a bone.

It's repulsive, really, to play with people's lives this way. It's especially revolting that the president chose this month, Gay Pride Month, to do it.

There are 27 amendments to the United States Constitution. The first 10, referred to as the Bill of Rights, were adopted and ratified almost immediately following the adoption of the constitution itself in 1789. The other 17 became the law of the land over the course of the next 200 years, with the most recent amendment (concerning setting the salaries of members of Congress) coming in 1992.

Generally, the constitutional amendments all deal with subjects like protecting individuals from government oppression, or with the structure and operation of government itself. Only once did politics corrupt the constitutional amendment process enough to steer it off course into the realm of attempting to legislate morality: in 1919 the 18th amendment was ratified, banning the manufacture, sale or transport of "intoxicating liquor." That was a dismal failure and is, to date, the only constitutional amendment that's been repealed. That ought to tell you something, Mr. President.

But the president doesn't really think his marriage amendment is going anywhere. He's just using the issue to rally supporters at a politically expedient moment. Fully aware of the torrent of emotion and hatred surrounding the issue of homosexuality among his right-wing "base" — heck, these are the people who protest military funerals shouting that God is punishing the U.S. for accepting gay people by allowing our soldiers to be killed — Mr. Bush has the brass to say he wants the nation to "conduct this difficult debate in a manner worthy of our country, without bitterness or anger." Fat chance.

We've treated gay people shabbily. The battle has been long and hard to gain even some semblance of acceptance, social justice and equal rights under the law. People point to passages of Scripture to defend laws that discriminate against gays. People used to point to Scripture to defend slavery, too. In any case, Scripture has no place in our system of government. The founding fathers saw to that with the very first amendment to our constitution, prohibiting the establishment of religion.

For me, as for countless other people here on the North Fork — your family members, friends and neighbors — this is a very personal issue. And it's a civil rights issue, not a morality issue. There are so many rights and privileges that married people take for granted — from having the right to be at the bedside of the one you love at the hospital ICU, to sharing health benefits, to having an exemption for your partner on your income tax return. Never mind the whole host of civil rights that are not guaranteed to people just because they are gay, the question of marriage aside.

Socially, things have gotten easier for gay people. There is more acceptance, less bigotry. Now it's time for the law to catch up to the realities of modern life. It's not time to go backwards, as the president proposes. And it's certainly not time to embroil the country in a bitter, hate-filled and pointless debate. There are far too many other truly important issues — the debacle in Iraq, the faltering economy, the trade and budget deficits, to name a few — that we really should be focusing on as a nation. But maybe taking attention away from these other issues is the real motive behind the president's shameless pandering to his "conservative base," after all.

© 2006


Ceil Iannelli said...

Hi Denise - C'mon who is Mr. Bush fooling? This is smoke and mirror trick to take the focus away from the real issues in this county..This is a way to galvanize support for his ever failing policies.
Take this sensitive issue and run with really turns my stomach - worse yet - some folks will buy this worse kind of "ism"
You are absolutely correct this is a civil rights issue rather than a moral issue...I take this personally - I had neighbors in Staten Island for 20 years who were a gay couple..the nicest guys in the world, when his partner died ( not of AIDS) why do I feel the need to qualify this statment - I digress -
so when Billy passed away - my first husband had just taken ill and subsequently died 4 months later..we were a comfort to each is love is love...I will always be grateful that we were able to hold each other up and try to stay sane at a time when our world was "insane." I can attest to the fact that sometimes in a gay relationship the partner was not allowed at the bedside, nor privy to diagnosis because they were not the legal next of kin..some of that is changing thank goodness...As far as pointing to Scripture as a what happend to the separation of Church and State? If they want to use Scripture how about "Love your neighbor as yourself" oops...that is if he is not a minority, gay or any other thing we slam people with...

Betty Baker said...

Ceil is right. She might have added if your neighbor is not gay or an immigrant!! then you love them. I, too, have known a male gay couple, one of whom was dying. For years no one was more attentive or caring or supportive than his partner. I am still friends with the survivor. I once read en editorial in the Miami Herald which I've remembered for years: the writer considered it touching that gays WANT to be married considering the fractured state of that institution these days. As you point out, a large percentage of marriages end in divorce. Some of these gay couples have been together 25-30+ years! And a constitutional amendment would trivialize that basic document. ("They" also want one on flag-burning! Give me a break.)
Why is there so much hate around?
Aren't Christians supposed to love one another?

Anonymous said...

What's that saying? Be careful who you hate, it may turn out to be someone you love. It's time for these moralistic mandates to disappear. I don't get why some are so concerned about the happenings in other people's bedrooms. Don't we have more pressing things to worry about? Sheesh.

Ceil Iannelli said...

Well- I agree with anonymous - I don't care what folks do in their bedrooms..but the reality is THERE ARE FOLKS WHO DO! That's the rub.
Of course, we have more pressing issues, but as I wrote in my earlier comment this issue is a smoke and mirror game spearheaded
by none other than George Bush.

christineV said...

I am sorry Ms. Civiletti but I do not agree with your opinion. The battle over redefining marriage as stated in the Constitution has not come to discussion because the President wants a diversion from his popularity of from forefront issues, but because gays have argued and demanded to have the Constitution the debate. I take exception to those who feel if one disagrees with legalizing gay marriage, that they are haters. What I say is those who oppose gay rights are hated for that view. Gays can cohabitate together..that is their decision. But the left isn't satisfied with that. Using God and Scripture is absolutely feasible when debating legalizing gay marriage because this country was founded on just that, God and the Bible. For those who hide behind and shake their fist vehemently and scream "Separation of church and state! Separation of church and state!," only fool themselves on being ignorant in knowing their country's history. The primary reason this country was discovered was to be free from England's suppression of freely practicing religion. So when our forefathers came on this soil, they wanted to preserve that the government will never again interfere with the church. Liberals have the uncanny delusion of what I coin as "The Emperor’s New Clothes" theory. They believe anything just for the simple reason that it was said and usually said by very popular, articulate people and the more adjectives and crude humor they use, the more applause and acceptance they get, without researching the facts.

George Dupree said...

Denise, you say "Scripture has no place in our system of government. The founding fathers saw to that with the very first amendment to our constitution, prohibiting the establishment of religion."

How then do we respond to these statements by Benjamin Franklin where he refers to and quotes passages of scripture?

| Portrait of Ben Franklin
“ God governs in the affairs of man. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured in the Sacred Writings that except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. I firmly believe this. I also believe that, without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel” –Constitutional Convention of 1787 | original manuscript of this speech

“In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for Divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered… do we imagine we no longer need His assistance?” [Constitutional Convention, Thursday June 28, 1787]

In Benjamin Franklin's 1749 plan of education for public schools in Pennsylvania, he insisted that schools teach "the excellency of the Christian religion above all others, ancient or modern."

In 1787 when Franklin helped found Benjamin Franklin University, it was dedicated as "a nursery of religion and learning, built on Christ, the Cornerstone."

Your comparing of right wing fundamentalists to the group of people who are protesting military funerals is quite narrow minded and unfair. As is the assumption that if people don't agree with something they then hate it and the people connected to that how you believe? Of course, because I don't aggree with homosexuality you don't hate me, do you?