1. Homophobes Are Stupid
Some reactionary pundits seem to be more passionate about the menace of homosexual rights than they are about the presidential election. Cal Thomas showed his colors last week, and this week it's Maggie Gallagher's turn. She's a homophobe of long standing, though she writes that "I know many, many gay people" who share her views on the marriage question. She usually disguises her prejudice behind surveys or statistics that she interprets to suggest that anything different from "one man, one woman" is bad for the children. She shows some truer colors this time, arguing in favor of a California proposition against gay marriage. Her argument this week is that a majority of people has a right to stigmatize a minority and deny it the rights the majority enjoys.
"Marriage is a publicly affirmed status -- a shared social ideal -- not just a private act," Gallagher writes. In other words, the people -- practically speaking, the majority, -- gets to say what marriage is. I would have expected her to say marriage was a sacrament defined by divine revelation, but the preferred homophobic tactic these days is to accuse gay rights advocates of hostility toward democracy. So she goes on: "When the government says gay unions are the ideal -- exactly the same as husband and wife -- a whole lot of people who disagree are going to find life gets a whole lot harder, especially when it comes to raising our children."
Take my word for it: Gallagher never gets around to explaining how life will get "a whole lot harder" for heterosexuals, either in the realm of child-rearing or anywhere else. Perhaps they'll suffer some mental stress from being unable to forbid what their religion deems sinful, but I can't imagine how upholding gay marriage rights will handicap anyone else. The one consequence she specifically predicts, should the proposition fail, is that "public schools will teach about gay marriage." As she puts it more strongly, "If Prop 8 loses, expect a lot more public schools to join Mayor [Gavin] Newsom's crusade to promote gay marriage, 'whether you like it or not.'" So I guess it's an unfair burden on some people to have their children learn that there's nothing wrong with homosexuals, or that they have a right to marry. Sometimes tolerance is intolerable for some folks.
As ever, the knot at the heart of the debate is the definition of marriage. Homophobes can't separate the concept of marriage as a religious sacrament or ritual from the legal standing of marriage for the purpose of sharing property, benefits, etc. For couples of any kind, the legal fact of marriage or separate-but-equivalent "civil unions" is a prerequisite for property sharing and other arrangements, while the ritual is purely voluntary. Thinking about this, I've come around to the view that a constitutional amendment is needed to define marriage once and for all.
2. A Suggested Constitutional Amendment
"Marriage being a legal contract between consenting adult parties conferring shared rights and privileges upon the parties and compelling public recognition of a life partnership independent of any religious ceremony, neither Congress nor the several States shall make laws rendering the state or status of marriage conditional upon ceremonies or tests founded upon religious doctrines; but the states may recognize persons united in religious ceremonies as legally married, and shall make no law compelling religious officers to perform superfluous ceremonies contrary to individual conscience or religious obligation."
This is a first draft, so forgive my attempt at "constitution-ese." I'm trying to accomplish several things here. First, I want to separate the institution of marriage from any sacrament or ritual in the eyes of the law. Second, the amendment should block any lawmaking body from enacting a "one-man-one-woman" law. Third, I want to make religious ceremonies sufficient but not necessary. Homosexual couples should not have to go through a religious ceremony to be recognized as married, nor should couples who have church weddings have to go through any more bureaucracy than they do now to earn legal recognition. Finally, it addresses what I take to be the great fear of religious folk by assuring them that no one who feels strongly on the subject will ever be forced to perform a gay marriage ceremony. So now that you know what I mean the amendment to say, I leave it to anyone who wants to phrase it more effectively or clearly.