The swords have rattled once again in the US Senate over the “Marriage protection amendment.” In yet another election-year ploy, Republican leaders have pushed an amendment to the US Constitution into debate that would define marriage as “between a man and a woman.”

After three days of sound-byte producing debate on the Senate floor, the final result was a little surprising to conservatives. The measure failed with 48 votes for and 49 votes against. The reason it was a little surprising is simple: conservatives actually lost a vote when they were assured they’d at least have a majority vote. There was little hope of victory for the Republicans on this amendment. But leaders said they “wanted to get people on record” for the upcoming mid-term elections.

How naked can the political maneuvering be? Those of us who are in the GLBT community aren’t the only ones scratching our heads, though. In fact, nearly every moderate and liberal columnist or editorial has opined that the latest move by Senator Frist and company is little more than an election-year ploy for using incumbent democrats as whipping boys (or girls) over the gay marriage issue.

Thankfully, the United States Constitution was designed to be difficult to change. The “Marriage Protection Amendment” needed 60 votes to move to a final vote, and 67 votes to pass and send to the House for ratification. It would have then needed a majority vote in 36 of the 50 states. All of this, of course, would have had to have been done during a time of war in which the American public is getting more and more disgusted. That’s not even considering the rising inflation and interest rates, skyrocketing gasoline prices and news of an imminent recession.

And yet, gay marriage is the number one issue for “family values” and the “sanctity of marriage.” Religious leaders from across the country have championed this cause even while ignoring the fact that more than half of the marriages in their own churches will end in divorce. I won’t even mention the rampant adultery in religious circles.

Yet somehow, gay people, who are often rejected as church members as well as Christians, are somehow a “great threat” to marriage. Focus on the Family, The Traditional Values Coalition, and a myriad of other right-wing groups have joined the bandwagon to tell the American public that “redefining marriage” will somehow put the United States at great risk.

President Bush echoed those sentiments as quoted by CBS News in July of 2004, the last time this came around: “Activist judges and local officials in some parts of the country are not letting up in their efforts to redefine marriage for the rest of America — and neither should defenders of traditional marriage flag in their efforts.” Apparently, “activist judges” are the greatest threat to the integrity of the American family that has ever come down the pike.

Apparently, “activist judges” like Anthony Kennedy, who was appointed by President Reagan, opened up this can of worms by writing in the Lawrence v Texas decision that consenting adults have a right to privacy in their own homes and to form whatever kind of relationships they see fit. It would seem that our conservative friends would rather patrol our bedrooms like lunchroom monitors who insist we eat all our vanilla… er… vegetables.

Conservatives have said repeatedly that marriage is a “God-ordained” institution that had its roots in the beginning of human history (read: the Bible). What’s more troubling is that the phrase “activist judges” is still thrown around like silly putty against the wall, hoping that it’ll stick. Unfortunately, it has stuck.

The same conservatives who insisted that “majority rules” doesn’t matter according to the rule of law in a Presidential election which is decided by the Electoral College are now saying that “majority rules” does matter when dealing with gay marriage. Strange how the very people who were denied their candidate in 2000 are now told that they can have their discrimination in 2006.

Gay rights activists have long considered gay marriage to be a civil rights issue, and with good reason. One couple right here in Clarksville (who will remain nameless) visited the Florida Keys a couple of years ago as they often did during their twenty-five-plus years together. During that fateful visit, one of the men contracted a nasty case of appendicitis and was confined to a hospital. Thankfully, the hospital allowed the man’s partner to visit and sit with his ailing beloved.

Not everyone is so lucky, especially in rural areas. Some might wink at a gay couple, while others will prevent any kind of contact in favor of members of their immediate family, which often rejects their “gay lifestyle.” Marriage would eliminate any of these problems or potential problems. There are, some argue, some limited protections that can be written into legal agreements, wills, power-of-attorneys, and other documents that are available. But really, should a couple spend thousands of dollars for limited protections while other couples can enjoy them with peace of mind with a simply marriage license?

Of course not.

Marriage is, in essence, two things. It is a religious ceremony and a legal contract. In reality, it was a legal contract long before it was a religious ceremony. In today’s United States, however, the two go hand-in-hand. Marriage is a sacrament that has 1048 legal rights that are granted from the moment the license is signed by all parties. Our conservative neighbors somehow think that their own contract is somehow weakened by the ability of a gay couple who would like to enter into a contract of their own.

This is a little like saying that if one man were to eat pizza for breakfast it would threaten another man’s bacon and eggs. Contracts, agreements, and relationships are valid no matter who enters them.

And on the religious matter, there isn’t an “activist judge” in the country who would force a church to marry a gay couple. That’s just not even possible under our current constitution. That pesky first amendment would keep that from happening. Apparently, some would like for us to forget that (along with that nutty freedom to peaceably assemble line during Pride month).

In the end, gay marriage is an issue that won’t go away any time soon. We’ve already seen it legalized in Massachusetts, as well as civil unions in Connecticut and Vermont. It won’t be long before we see it one form or another in other states as well. Some will be from judges… others will be from congressional acts (like the one that Governator Schwarzenegger vetoed last year).

The question we have to ask is whether or not marriage is an institution that is even appropriate for the Constitution to discuss. The Constitution, whether it is state or federal, is a document that is designed for government, not religion. To use it to grandstand a religious issue is as inappropriate as it is immoral.

The bottom line is that we as gays should absolutely have the right to have all of the legal protections for our committed, loving relationships that heterosexual marriages enjoy. We’re told that it’s a moral issue. I agree. It’s immoral to deny a group of people equal rights under the law based on sexual orientation.

“But then we’ll have polygamy and bestiality!” Well, let’s see. Polygamy is in the Bible and is celebrated… and maybe I’ll get to marry my cat. They already think I’m their slave. Why not? Ah, the slippery slope theory never fails.

Here’s a slippery slope worth mentioning: Reinstate sodomy laws. Force all the gay bookstores to close because “children might see them.” Shut down the gay bars because “it might encourage gay sex.” And of course, shut down the gay and lesbian newspapers, magazines and TV stations. We can’t go promoting the “homosexual lifestyle,” can we? Then finally, start rounding up the homosexuals and putting them into concentration camps. Sound far fetched? History has a nasty habit of repeating itself.

So yes, the gay marriage debate continues. As well it should. I still find it interesting that the very same conservatives who blast the gay community (never lesbians, go figure) for our apparent promiscuity would deny us the one institution which would be a real and lasting solution to that very real problem. “You sleep with everyone,” they might say, “but you can’t get married.”

So all the while, my partner and I are legal strangers who happen to live in the same house.

And we still can’t get married.

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