Let us imagine that our country is as my opponent says it is. Imagine that the legislatures of all 50 states
, the Congress, the Democratic challenger for President
, his chief opponent
, and over three quarters of the people of the country
- your friends, family, and neighbors all willingly and intentionally choose to be just like segregationists and want to maintain bigotry. In this world we decide to bend our collective will to keep one group from living their lives like the rest of us and we do this for no good reason at all. We hear them asking for fairness and equity but we consign them to the twilight world of "separate but equal". Groups who in past decades had known this very treatment, who should be sympathetic, who had won their equality through hard struggle in the courts and with the vote - women, Hispanics, blacks, Asians - also stand in opposition to this one small plea. We ought to know better. Any reasonable person should. But we are not reasonable people. We are trapped in archaic systems of religious belief, bound up in hatred and fear, and duped by flimsy arguments by those who want us to continue this "de facto
bigotry. We stand in the tradition of Bull Connor and the Klu Klux Klan and Isamofascists and the Nazis. We are not them - certainly not - but there is no difference between us and them. And we do this on purpose, arbitrarily, and with caprice - blind to the obvious faults in our argument no matter that they are pointed out to us ever day.
That is the world in which my opponent seems to live. It is a world where the overwhelming majority of Americans chooses bigotry over fairness by not granting gay marriage. Does that seem an overly harsh view of the world? It does to me. After reading his arguments and rebuttals, this is what appears to be true. Data introduced to the contrary is only evidence of the bias, ulterior motives, or thinly-disguised segregation we choose to hold close to us. In this world view opposition is intentional oppression.
But there is another world out here for us. It is a world in which reasonable and informed people have seen where introducing gay marriage in other countries has had effects they see as detrimental to the future. They see countries where gay marriage has contributed to rising illegitimate birth rates and greater numbers of cohabitating families. They see that and know that such a situation would spell disaster here with us. They know the damage to future generations that the decline of our families has caused and it takes no great imagination for them to project how much more damage could ensue. They, like me, are not sure that this will be so; none of us are prophets. But they are not convinced at all that there will be no effect, as my opponent would have them to believe. They err on the side of caution because if they guess wrong, the damage can not be undone.
They want to be fair. They do not want to hurt people they care about. It pains them to hold these beliefs because they know it will. But they hold them because they believe what Teddy Roosevelt believed when he addressed Congress in 1905:
"The institution of marriage is, of course, at the very foundation of our social organization, and all influences that affect that institution are of vital concern to the people of the whole country."
Their choice to prize societal stability over individual rights is not an easy one and some days they waver. What could it hurt?
, they often think. Where is the harm in letting this happen? After all, gays must prize marriage greatly in order to fight this hard for it
. But they see quotes like that from Matt Foreman and Stephen Clark, and David Chambers, and the Swedish sociologists and they realize that what is being asked for is not inclusion but destruction. They know - we all know - that the majority of those in same-sex relationships do not want to destroy marriage, but they bring with them those who do. We understand that even though the slope does not seem dreadfully slippery now, it will not take much for it to become so and we will be at a loss to stop it. Even the Fourteenth Amendment contained its own unintentional slippery slope that has led us - with good outcomes and bad - to where we are now. In our world, we know that small stones can easily become an avalanche. So, without pleasure, we choose what appears like cruelty and inequity. But even in that we wonder. Is it inequity to maintain that all of us are prohibited equally from marrying someone of the same sex? Yes, say those who accuse us of hatred and fear, it is and there is no doubt. They tell us that we can marry whom we desire so why can't they? It's unfair. It's unjust. But that doesn't ring true to us. We can't marry whom we desire. We have in the past restricted marriage for the benefit of society because we know, at heart, that this is where the interest of government lies. Our reason is anything "arbitrary and capricious". It comes from careful thought and knowing sacrifice. We hold this line because it is the one that allows the law to remain blind and to treat us all with equal regard.
The debate about gay marriage is not an ideological one. Even John Kerry said,
"I personally have taken the position I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman. That's my position. And I think that's the way you respect -- (applause) -- that's the way you respect both traditional values..."
And Howard Dean, in a Larry King interview, could not summon support for it.
KING: Let's talk about other issues. The president said he wants to codify a law that secures the fact that there will be no gay marriage. Vermont has what, gay union?
DEAN: We have civil unions, which gives equal rights -- doesn't give marriage, but it gives equal rights in terms of insurance, employment rights, inheritance rights, hospital visitation, to every single Vermonter, no matter who they are.
You know, interestingly enough, Dick Cheney took a position in 2000 in the debates that is not very different than mine. He said, this is not a federal issue. I really am inclined to leave this matter to the states, and I think we ought to let states figure out how to give equal rights to everybody in the way that they do it. So I think this is kind of a political issue at the federal level, but the power to decide these things really belongs to the state level.
KING: All right. On your own state level, if it were a referendum, would you vote for gay marriage?
DEAN: If what were -- we don't have a referendum in my state, and we have civil unions, and we deliberate chose civil unions, because we didn't think marriage was necessary in order to give equal rights to all people.
Marriage is a religious institution, the way I see it. And we're not in the business of telling churches who they can and cannot marry. But in terms of civil rights and equal rights under the law for all Americans, that is the state's business, and that's why we started civil unions.
KING: So you would be opposed to a gay marriage?
DEAN: If other states want to do it, that's their business. We didn't choose to do that in our state.
KING: And you personally would oppose it?
DEAN: I don't know, I never thought about that very much, because we didn't do it in our state for that reason. The body politic agreed in our state that it wasn't the thing to do, so we didn't do it.
The argument, fundamentally, is not even about "rights". It is about whether the social fabric of our country would be better off or worse if we allow gay marriage. This is not an easy question to ask because it forces us to divorce our reason from our feelings and we are caring, feeling humans. It is hard to tell someone they can not have what they want. But we know that we can not.
But we know something else. We know that our Democracy can thrive only if we put this important and hard question to a vote. We know that leaving this decision to a few unelected and lifelong judges, regardless of their motives or character, is the antithesis to the democratic process. Our Constitution requires the vigorous and purposeful debate this debate demands. And, if by chance we later find that we've made an error, we have the same process to repeal our decision. Abrogating our responsibility as citizens by having judges make this decision removes forever our ability to make changes of our own volition. We will always be beholden to the pleasure of future courts to decide the state of this issue. Some are content with this. Some prefer this. I do not - I can not and claim to be a responsible citizen.
While this debate continues across the country, data will compete with data, reason against reason and in the end the stronger idea will prevail. We have shown through history that when we undertake to change the Constitution, the stronger idea carries the day. And that is the way our country ought to work.