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Sunday, May 16, 2004

Battle Gay Marriage - The Challenger - Opening Argument

It almost seems absurd to some folks to have a debate on Gay Marriage. After all, isn't the legal recognition of two folks who are in love and want to marry something every reasonable and compassionate person has to support? Who could look at a couple and say, "No, you can't be married!"? Why, anyone who could say "No" to that is just the sort of person who would kick cute little kittens and send adorable puppies en masse to The Cruella DeVille Fur Coat Factory! At the very least they must be some sort of fundamentalist right-wing religious fanatic who really wants run "all them queers" out of town on a rail.

Unfortunately, that is the level of debate we see all too often used against those who favor a Constitutional Amendment to ban gay marriages. It's a shameful tactic to use because it entirely overlooks and needlessly belittles the entire reason those people (including myself) see the need to amend the Constitution. We realize that doing so is a huge task and one undertaken very few times in the long history of our nation. But we do not see any other choice. In the face of the Goodrich case in Massachusetts and the likely court challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) we are at a loss to prevent marriage from falling prey to the same judicial fiat that has consigned the abortion debate to national limbo.
I favor a Constitutional Amendment to ban gay marriages. I fully understand that it is a radical step but I see no other alternative. I don't support it out of mindless cruelty or because I want people to feel pain but because allowing it will be emphatically bad for our society.

I want to touch for a few paragraphs on why I believe that gay marriage is a bad thing for our country then I will move into why amending the Constitution is necessary. I can not, in the space provided for my Opening Argument make a full argument for the first part of my argument. I refer readers to the vital debate which has gone on for the better part of two years in publications such as the National Review (mainly by Stanley Kurtz) and The New Republic (mainly by Andrew Sullivan but also there and elsewhere by Darren Spedale).

The importance of marriage lies in how it holds a society together and builds children into healthy and productive citizens. That institution has been in decline and the damage to future generations is already beginning to show. The Heritage Foundation produced a series of studies showing the effects the slow dissolution of marriage on children and parents. They found, among other things, that children in non-married households are more likely to be poor, to suffer serious physical abuse, to be expelled from school, to use marijuana and cocaine, to carry weapons, and to end up in prison as adults. There is no dispute that children are better off growing up in two-parent, married households than they are in any other sort of living arrangement. That marriage has a definable advantage to society makes it worthy of governmental support and encouragement.

What does that have to do with gay marriage, though? Aside from the uncommon gay couples who might get a vial from David Crosby to produce a child (and oh what a treat that's was!) gay marriages are unlikely to produce children and those that do would have the same results on a child as marriages do now. As it turns out, it does. We have evidence, thanks to Stanley Kurtz who recently concluded a lengthy study of the state of marriage in Scandinavia, that gay marriage harms the entire institution. He recently testified before Congress on the matter and that testimony can be found here. His contention, summarized, is that the inclusion of gay marriage has further deteriorated the institution so that heterosexual couples are now less likely to marry than before. The notion that has taken hold there is that if anyone can marry, then how important can the institution be? In Scandinavia, it's become not important at all. Well over 50 percent of all children there now are born out of wedlock. The trend toward parental cohabitation, Kurtz found, has moved into historically “conservative” neighborhoods since the adoption of gay marriage. How many of you are willing to wager a ten spot that the United States would miraculously reject that trend? It's okay – I'll wait for you to finish laughing.

It doesn't take an expert to see what would happen in this country It may well take a village to raise a child, but it also takes traditional married families. Marry (heh) the Heritage Foundation's information with an increase in children living in anything but traditional households and the recipe for disaster is obvious. Marriage is important. It's not some lab rat we can just poke and prod without serious consequences. It's naive to believe otherwise.

Defenders of marriage realize this and have put the matter to the people in the forms of referendums and legislative actions. The issue is clearly in their favor and they have found success in holding marriage to the way humanity has defined it for thousands of years. That has not stopped the courts from overturning those laws on various grounds and thwarting the will of the people. On the specious grounds of "equal protection", the Goodrich decision in Massachusetts has forced the issue as have decisions in Hawaii and Vermont.

Again, though, there's a question. Why couldn't, say, Maryland pass whatever law it wants regardless of what Massachusetts has done? Why couldn't a state amend its own Constitution? That way the decision would belong to the citizens of each state in the very best Libertarian tradition. But it doesn't work that way. The Constitution has something called the "full faith and credit clause" that says:

" Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State."


That means that any institution honored in one state must be honored in all of them. Thus, a gay couple married in Massachusetts must be honored elsewhere regardless of the local laws. This clause is what makes the DOMA vulnerable to being ruled unconstitutional the very moment it is challenged in court. This also makes any action by an individual state to keep the current definition of marriage intact moot. So long as any court can point to this clause, no state is able to act upon the will of its people in this subject. In fact, gay couples are already traveling to Massachusetts to marry. Gay Marriage advocates are already using this argument to attempt to overturn laws in several states. It is not at all certain that any court would uphold a state law that reinforces the traditional definition of marriage. In fact, it is likely, given the trends of court decisions, that a court would overturn any such law.

So we come to why amending the Constitution is necessary. Once marriage is defined as it as always been in the Constitution it will be beyond the reach of any capricious court decision. People will have a chance to discuss and debate the issue much as we are right here. That's healthy and necessary. It's what a democracy ought to be doing with important issues. That can't happen once a court has put the issue beyond the democratic process. That's the fate that has befallen abortion issue. Because the people are at a loss to change the decision, there is no productive reason to have a real debate. Sure, there can be yelling and name-calling and that's just what we see now but there won't be a real debate. Democracies do not rely on untouchable individuals to decide their important issues; dictatorships do.

But amending the Constitution does something more. It affirms that we find marriage so important to the health of our society and our future generations that we were willing to change the Constitution to reinforce it. That would be a huge influence on the condition of marriage today – as large as the negative influence that allowing gay marriage would have.
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