July 19, 2004, 12:00 P.M.
So What? In February 2004, President Bush announced that he was going to put the “full weight” of his office behind attempts to pass a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. While on one hand this may have been another attempt to pander to the religious right, and to bring the debate over gay marriage to the forefront as a campaign issue, on the other hand this position appears to truly reflect the President’s religious beliefs.
This is problematic for several reasons. First, the President’s personal religious beliefs are his business, but should not form the basis of Executive branch support for a constitutional amendment. Second, to the extent that this position reflects the political need to put the President in back in good graces with a portion of his constituency that he has alienated with his irresponsible fiscal policies, there could be no worse reason to amend the document that forms the foundation of our government. Finally, the idea of amending the Constitution in a way that would deny any American citizen rights should be seen as repugnant to everyone, regardless of their religious beliefs.
We do not live in a theocracy and the separation of church and state, religion and politics, priests and politicians, is essential to the continued protection of all of us and our religious freedoms. To support the amendment of the constitution based on the teachings or beliefs of one religion is tantamount to favoring one religion over another. This is precisely what the constitution intended to forbid our government from doing.
During a campaign stop in Pennsylvania last week the President affirmed his position that “What they do in the privacy of their house, consenting adults should be able to do. This is America. It’s a free society. But it doesn’t mean we have to redefine traditional marriage.” The defeat of the proposed amendment in the Senate earlier this month by less than a simple majority and far less than the required two thirds majority sent a clear message that there is not a large political base of support for the presidents position, and suggests that the “full weight” of the president's office may have eroded on a diet of deceit, misinformation and political pandering.
The politics of the move might have backfired as well. The President failed to deliver a big headline victory to his conservative friends, but he also failed to provide iron clad protection to corporate and insurance cronies who are concerned that the recognition of gay marriage will cost them money in the form of benefit and insurance components of employee salaries. The increase in family plan insurance coverage alone is enough to turn some corporate heads. The President’s support of the constitutional amendment has certainly cost him among moderate and swing voters, and those voters will again play a large role in the next election. For the most part this is a political net loss for the President because the conservative and religious votes on the right will certainly not vote for Kerry, no matter how mad they are at the president over other issues, and those swing votes are the really important ones. Failing to deliver on this big promise is costly, and analogous to Bush 41’s failure to deliver the equally ill fated flag burning amendment promised before the 92 election.
Meanwhile, the President's former evangelical Christian supporters are furious at him for not more forcefully condemning marriages in California under the authority of Mayor Gavin Nelson. This is seen as an act of in decision and a failure of leadership by some, and as a indicia of a larger failure by the President in pressing socially conservative issues. Robert Knight, director of the Culture and Family institute, a conservative organization which is an affiliate of the group Concerned Women for America, feels that the lack of leadership by the president on these issues will effect voter turnout among conservative voters in November.
John Kerry has said that he does not favor gay marriage, but that the issue is one best left to the states. When considering that the Constitution is a document centered in defining and protecting the rights of citizens, not in limiting or denying peoples rights, such and amendment would violate the spirit of the document, regardless of how one feels on the subject of gay marriage. The Constitution's whole purpose is to protect and defend, not to exclude and discriminate.
Lost in all of this is the “so what factor.” What is really going to change if gay unions or marriages are allowed? The sky will not fall, life will go on, and some truly committed couples will have the opportunity to enjoy the legal protections and advantages afforded to others. Some people won’t like that. So What.