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 Another amendment (the 21st) repealed it.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.

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