Along the Tracks

Monday, November 24, 2003
 

Gay marriage


From Saturday’s Bryan Times (Subscribe to the Times!):

Amending the Defense of Marriage Amendment

By PAUL A. MILLER
Leader Enterprise

(NOTE TO READER: Though not explicit, this column discusses sexual activity.)

Like most conservatives, I believe marriage is the foundation of society. A foundation must be solid and secure. Therefore, I am in total support of a “defense of marriage” amendment to the constitution.

Here’s what’s being proposed by the Alliance for Marriage (and promoted by Dr. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family):

Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.

Sounds pretty good - keep the courts out of it. One man and one woman, devoted to each other ... oh, wait, it doesn’t say anything about “devotion.” When defenders of marriage talk about devotion, they mean “no hanky-panky.” What if the married couple does not have an active sexual relationship inside marriage? This is supposed to be about staying out of the proverbial cookie jar, not whether or not the “house is a-rockin’.” Well, it is just a “proposed” amendment, so let’s amend that language a bit:

Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman, who do not engage in sexual activity with anyone outside the union, whether or not they choose to engage in sexual activity within the union. Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.

There we go, a fine amendment to the ... hold your horses. As conservatives well know, a certain former president has so mangled the meaning of “sexual activity,” we simply cannot allow this definition to be left to the whimsy of some Arkansas lawyer wanna-be. Can we conservatives agree that touching another’s naughty-bits (with or without a cigar) counts as “sexual activity”?

Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman, who do not engage in sexual activity (defined as touching or stimulating the genital areas of another person) with anyone outside the union, whether or not they choose to engage in sexual activity within the union. Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.

All right, that should ... oops. We don’t have any kind of explanation that this union is not just some contract, to be signed or dissolved frivolously. The foundation of civilization was formed with stability in mind.

Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the permanent union of a man and a woman, who do not engage in sexual activity (defined as touching or stimulating the genital areas of another person) with anyone outside the union, whether or not they choose to engage in sexual activity within the union. Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.

Carve it in stone ... nope, better hold the chisel. That “legal incidents thereof” is a bit troublesome. I had an older relative with a “special friend” - nothing untoward, I’m pretty confident - who lived with her, watched out for her, even signed her checks as I recall (had power of attorney). When she died, everything was left to the “special friend.” Those are spousal “legal incidents,” if those words have any meaning at all. I know the amendment’s writers don’t mean to include such arrangements, but for consistency, they must. We cannot have the government endorsing non-marital relationships which offer the same benefits as marriage, right? Let’s make it explicit.

Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the permanent union of a man and a woman, who do not engage in sexual activity (defined as touching or stimulating the genital areas of another person) with anyone outside the union, whether or not they choose to engage in sexual activity within the union. Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof, including all single person to single person agreements or contracts, written or verbal, which include the sharing or transfer of rights, responsibilities or assets tangible and intangible, be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.

We have created a fine statement upholding the virtue of civilization’s cornerstone. What’s that? Divorce? Sorry, this amendment is meant to defend marriage. Divorce breaks up more marriages in a day than there are likely to be gay marriages in a year. What if a married person commits adultery or even Clintonesque “touching”? Easy answer: They lose their marriage rights - forever. Look, if we are going to put an amendment in the country’s founding document to defend marriage, we have to do it correctly. We can’t be making exceptions for people who grow apart, fall out of love, change their minds or get beat up by their spouses; nor for those who cheat with the milkman, go out “swinging,” or play peekaboo under the desk in the Oval Office. And if we are going to allow people to make agreements with each other outside of marriage with benefits they could only otherwise enjoy inside marriage, what’s the point of the amendment at all? Either marriage is to be defined as a sanctified and sacred singular institution - or it’s not.

Bottom line: If you favor the final draft above, you are serious about defending marriage with a constitutional amendment. If you favor some wimpy, watered-down version like many on the “religious right,” you aren’t. It’s really that simple.

UPDATE: A powerful moral statement by one of my favorite conservative thinkers, David Brooks.


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