Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Cowards and Fools

Opposing the "Marriage Amendment" by stealth

Someone opposed to Wisconsin's proposed constitutional amendment to "define marriage" – someone with money to spend on billboards and other advertising – is displaying extreme cowardice and stupidity. Billboards and bus kiosks are being spread with signs saying "Don't mess with the constitution" and "Vote no on amendment." Which amendment is not specified. No ballot number, no subject. But the obvious reference is to an amendment proposed by the legislature, which would insert a definition of "marriage" into the state constitution.

I am in fact going to vote NO. There is nothing so stupid and arrogant as amending the constitution to declare that the sky is blue, or that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, or that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. What is ordained of God cannot be added to, or subtracted from, by human constitutions. But this billboard reeks of manipulation. It proclaims to all the world that whoever paid for the advertising believes a majority of voters would vote for this amendment, if they knew what it is about. Therefore, an attempt is being made to defeat the amendment, by attacking the concept of amending the constitution.

Every now and then, a constitution needs to be amended. It was a great day when the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments were added to the federal constitution. The 16th amendment (income tax), was a good idea compared to the alternatives. Most of us now accept the wisdom of the 19th amendment, extending voting rights to the female half of the population. The 18th amendment (prohibition of alcohol) was a disaster. Fortunately, we were not stuck with it forever. Another amendment (the 21st) repealed it.

Amending a constitution is more difficult than passing a law. Rightly so. The constitution is the foundation of all civil law, and limits the powers of government to those expressly granted by the people. But "don't mess with the constitution" is not a reason to refuse an amendment. There should be a very good reason to amend any constitution. Urging citizens to vote NO requires a halfway decent, openly presented objection. There is no good reason to ratify this amendment. It should be voted down, openly and honestly, without stealth or deception.

Let's be honest. If voters are presented with the question "Is marriage the union of one man and one woman?" the overwhelming majority of us are going to vote YES. Even most Mormons would do so, and in the United States, probably most Muslims. The real question is "Do we want this particular language about marriage, thrown together by some legislators who apparently found nothing better to do, enshrined in our state constitution?"

NO. It is unnecessary. There is no significant chance that anyone will pass a law in this state to define marriage as anything but the union of one man and one woman. That is what the law says now, and always has. If a majority of voters someday comes to support some other definition, let that majority worry about it. Such a majority could easily reamend the constitution. Meantime, we can rest assured that no law, no judicial decision, in fact no amendment to the state constitution, could ever dictate to a church what sort of wedding can be performed in its sanctuary. That is removed from state OR federal power by the First Amendment to the federal constitution.

There is no reason to prohibit laws that would broadly allow individuals who are NOT married to own property in common, share joint checking accounts, and visit each other in the hospital. Whether that is an aging brother and sister moving into their late parents' home, or three families sharing an old mansion, or a couple of individuals of the same gender, is of no legitimate concern to the state. The specific language of this amendment would incidentally cut off all of the above. These are things that married couples share with each other. There are many other reasons individuals who do not share a marriage might want to share property or visitation rights. None of these other reasons constitute a marriage. Voting NO is the right thing to do, but let's have an open and honest debate about WHY.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

No on this "marriage amendment"

We don't need our constitution to tell us that the sky is blue.

My home state, Wisconsin, has joined this year's round of referendums on amending state constitutions, to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

I believe that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. I know that there have been many human cultures which allow a man to marry more than one wife, and a few that allowed a woman to marry more than one husband. So what? From the inception of the United States of America, our culture, politics, laws, and predominant religions have firmly held to one husband and one wife. Even the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints abandoned polygamy, when faced with the United States Seventh Cavalry entering Utah Territory.

As far as two individuals of the same gender seeking to marry, I can find holes in the reasoning of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts big enough to drive a Mack truck through. Seriously. I don't know why the attorney general of Massachusetts couldn't find them. There is no basis for the twisted logic that "equal protection of the laws" entitles an individual to marry whoever or whatever s/he chooses to marry.

To start with, equal protection of the laws, a very important principle enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment, applies to individuals, not to demographic groups. It protects individuals from being treated differently because of what social or ethnic category they may be consigned to. No man has ever been denied a license to marry a woman, or vice versa, on the ground that "you are a homosexual."

That is why I will vote against the marriage amendment to my state's constitution.

Come on now, let's be serious. Do we really need a constitutional amendment to declare that the sky is blue???

Let's have a little faith in ourselves, in our communities, in our fellow-citizens. True, sometimes a constitution serves to restrain our legislators. As Mark Twain observed, "nobody's life, liberty or property are safe while the legislature is in session." But this amendment is being eagerly proposed by our legislators. What are they trying to do , tie their own hands?

Oh, maybe they are trying to restrain our state courts. We wouldn't want another decision so utterly unsound and frivolous as the nonsense that four justices on the Massachusetts Supreme Court came up with, would we? Three out of seven justices in Massachusetts dissented from that decision – hey, has anybody actually read that ruling? It is easily available on the internet.Look it up. Now in Massachusetts, they may need to amend their constitution to set the judges straight.

There is not one justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court who has indicated the slightest intention of making such a decision. There is no sign at all that anything close to a majority of the court would even consider such a ruling. Last time anyone offered opinions, seven out of nine justices on the United States Supreme Court said that the federal constitution does NOT provide a guarantee for same-sex couples to marry.

One of the two justices who might possibly be considered to have maybe said something that might lead to such a conclusion, Sandra Day O'Connor, has since retired. Is anyone afraid that Justice Samuel Alito will be an advocate of a constitutional right for same-gender couples to marry?

So whatever is on the legislators' minds, it is not protecting the institution of marriage. What designs do they have on our life, liberty and property? I have no idea. I know that what they have asked the people to approve makes no sense.

We don't need a constitutional amendment to tell us that the sky is blue, nor to tell us that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. We also don't need a constitutional amendment to establish that, in this state, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

Marriage isn't a right, it is an institution. Some people choose to enter into it, some do not. Every person who chooses to enter into a marriage has a constitutional right to be treated, by the law and the state, in exactly the same manner as every other person who chooses to enter into a marriage. The definition of marriage can't be one thing for some people, and another thing for other people.

Nobody in our nation may be forced into a marriage (although many were in other human cultures in various centuries). Nobody has a constitutional right to redefine what marriage IS either. If "equal protection of the laws" means that I have a right to "marry" whatever I want to, that might start with a person of my own gender, but why not a right to marry my dog, my horse, a sheep, my sports car, or my computer?

We don't need a constitutional amendment. We need to have confidence that marriage, the union of one man and one woman, can be upheld with common sense and simple, rational insight – much less that it is established of God and can weather the storm of nonsense running through our court system.

The wording of this particular amendment would rule out simple, compassionate, common sense legal measures that, incidentally, would provide some consolation to people who do choose to enter into same-gender couples. They have no claim to demand that the rest of us honor or license their choices. But there is no reason they should not, by law, grant each other rights of hospital visitation, hold property in common, etc. James Watkins, a Holiness minister and gospel columnist residing in Indiana, has written eloquently on this subject.

The state doesn't have to take notice of why two or more individuals would want to make such provisions. Maybe an aging brother and sister are moving into their late parents' home together. Let individuals make their own personal arrangements. Leave marriage alone: it is what it is.

That is why I am going to vote NO on amending the Wisconsin constitution.