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Gay marriage and political posturing

If you have listened to any of the recent campaign speeches or news coverage of the respective presidential candidates, you will have to notice the buzzword of the week is “values.” The Bush administration has staked its claim to which candidate best represents the values of this nation by forcefully backing a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage. Unfortunately for the administration, what the American public is witnessing is a Republican party far from united on this issue. With so few legislative days left in the session, the tragedy in this debate is that it takes away from the “people’s business” at a time when it is clear that there was not even enough support to get the proposed amendment passed on the senate floor.

The Bush-Cheney campaign has certainly been persistent in alleging Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry has flip-flopped on some issues, but in regard to the proposed amendment banning gay marriage, it is both Bush and Cheney who have changed positions since the 2000 election. In a Republican primary debate during that timeframe, Larry King asked what Bush’s response would be if a state were voting on gay marriage. Bush responded by saying, “The state can do what they want to do.” In addition, during a vice presidential debate, Cheney indicated, “I don’t think there should necessarily be a federal policy in this area.”

The rather flimsy argument used to justify such a reversal is that recent court decisions, such as the Massachusetts ruling allowing same-sex marriages, have placed the issue in the hands of the judicial system and that the proposed amendment will provide what Bush calls “clarity” on the issue. Despite his goal, the theatrics surrounding the debate within his own party would seem to indicate there isn’t much clarity or consensus on this issue at all. A Republican strategy meeting, as reported by The Hill, indicated that there was not a consensus on the wording of such an amendment and some Republican senators such as John McCain of Arizona have indicated that they are simply opposed to the amendment.

The timing of this debate calls into question why the Republican leadership in the Senate has pushed this amendment that has essentially been dead on arrival. Realistically, they were never close to the two-thirds majority required for senate approval before sending it to the states for potential ratification. Look no further than high-stakes politics during an election year to explain the circus-like atmosphere the Bush administration has used to appease conservatives — many of whom have openly criticized the president in the past for not pushing hard enough for a ban on gay marriage. In an increasingly tight election year, campaign strategists know that the conservative vote, including the powerful religious right, is once again important.

Certainly it would seem that we are merely in the infancy of this debate as a nation. As is clear from Sen. Bill Frist’s comments and legislation now moving through the House, this issue is not going to go away. What I find interesting, though, is that recent polls, including the one conducted by the National Annenberg Election Survey, indicate that while two-thirds of those asked opposed same-sex marriage, only 43 percent favored a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Perhaps, as I see it, the re-election campaign is merely attempting to redirect increasing public discontent with a precarious situation in Iraq and net job loss over the past four years to a domestic issue that has not been on a majority of Americans’ minds.

Back in 1967, a majority of Americans were opposed to interracial marriage despite a Supreme Court ruling that struck down laws enacting such restrictions. I only mention that to indicate that the institution of marriage has certainly evolved in America over time and that, interestingly, public opinion can affect judicial progress.

While I certainly can’t predict if acceptance of gay marriage is in the nation’s immediate future, the Bush administration’s use of this issue as political posturing during an election year is getting us no closer to a viable inclusive policy for all Americans.

Aaron Hill is a sophomore majoring in chemistry.