After observing the recent developments in Massachusetts and San Francisco, President George W. Bush announced Tuesday that he is urging Congress to pass a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
Speaking from the Roosevelt Room in the White House, Bush said, “After more than two centuries of American jurisprudence and millennia of human experience, a few judges and local authorities are presuming to change the most fundamental institution of civilization … Unless action is taken, we can expect more arbitrary court decisions, more litigation, more defiance of the law by local officials — all of which adds to uncertainty.”
While I agree with Bush that it is wrong for a few courts to decide for the people that same-sex couples can get married, I have reservations about stopping them through a constitutional amendment. And it’s not just the hassle of getting a two-thirds vote in Congress and ratification from 38 states that bothers me.
The U.S. Constitution is one of the most important documents ever produced by a human society. Amending it should not be taken lightly. The rights listed in the Constitution are very basic and fundamental. There is nothing in it that even mentions marriage. It is silent on the issue.
While marriage is a fundamental societal institution, I believe that its regulation should be left up to the states. Vice President Dick Cheney at least used to believe that when he said in the 2000 debates, “I don’t think there should necessarily be a federal policy in this area.”
That being said, I would hope that states would keep in mind a few points when debating this issue. I’m probably going to get a lot of flack for this, but here it goes:
There is no denial of equal rights when we’re talking about the banning of gay marriage. Any person can marry anyone of the opposite sex that they want. No one has the right to marry someone of the same sex. In all actuality, no one really has the “right” in the constitutional sense to marry someone of the opposite sex either.
When we talk about marriage, we’re not speaking of a right, but an acknowledgment — an acknowledgment by government that a particular relationship is legitimate. This is a problem in that by government handing out a marriage certificate it is basically speaking for everyone and legitimizing the relationship — whether it be gay or straight. I don’t believe that government should have the power to speak for each citizen in these matters. That would be forcing each citizen to acknowledge and legitimize a relationship they may not agree with for various reasons.
The same is true of “civil unions” or “domestic partnerships.” These innocuous terms, however void of any religious meaning, are still acknowledgments of a relationship.
Gay activists often say that without some form of certificate acknowledging their relationships, they will continue to be deprived of certain benefits. I believe that these issues can be addressed without the government forcing citizens to put their seal of approval on lifestyles they disagree with.
Regarding medical rights, there should be ways that people can specify who they want to handle their medical decisions in the event that they cannot. They should be able to designate either a family member, friend or partner.
Regarding issues such as pensions and Social Security, here we are talking about either a company or government legitimizing a relationship. Being the free-market kind of guy that I am, I don’t think that companies should be mandated to give benefits to their employees’ partners if the company is opposed to the idea of such relationships. Government, acting as the voice of the people, should not legitimize such relationships either. The “right” to have benefits such as Social Security go to a partner is outweighed, in my mind, by the right of each individual citizen to not have to acknowledge or legitimize such a relationship.
In the end, matters of such religious and philosophical implications should be left up to each individual to decide according to their conscience. Government, either through the courts or legislation, should not decide for them — whether it be for or against gay marriage.
Adam Fowler is a junior majoring in political science.