The state should get out of the marriage business

Posted: Feb 26, 2004 12:00 AM

Consider government-sanctioned or court-mandated same-sex marriage -- somewhere, at some point -- a virtual certainty. For the Massachusetts State Supreme Court recently advised its legislature that anything short of same-sex marriage constitutes a violation of the equal protection clause of its constitution.

In San Francisco, the newly elected mayor, Gavin Newsom, advised local authorities to hand out same-sex marriage certificates, despite a voter-passed initiative defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley also publicly supports same-sex marriage, despite an Illinois law defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Daley supports same-sex marriage, because "they love each other just as much as anyone else. . . . Marriage has been undermined by divorce, so don't tell me about marriage. Don't blame the gay and lesbian, transgender and transsexual community."

Now follow the jumping politicians.

For pols up for re-election, they see this issue as a political hot potato dropped right between their legs. President Bush initially said, "I have watched carefully what's happening in San Francisco, where licenses were being issued, even though the law states otherwise. I have consistently stated that I'll support law to protect marriage between a man and a woman.
Obviously these events are influencing my decision. . . . I am watching very carefully . . . " Finally, President Bush picked up his bat and swung. He 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. Their action has created confusion on an issue that requires clarity. . . . If we are to prevent the meaning of marriage from being changed forever, our nation must enact a constitutional amendment to protect marriage in America."

A recent Time/CNN poll shows that 62 percent of all Americans oppose same-sex marriage, as well as 52 percent of Democrats. Former President Bill Clinton understood this when he signed, in the middle of the night, the Defense of Marriage Act, which allows a state to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., arguably the body's most ardent liberal, opposed the Defense of Marriage Act, considering the matter the province of the states, not the fed. Imagine, Sen. Boxer, who rarely sees a social program she cannot support, morphing into a states' righter! And, all of the major Democratic presidential candidates oppose same-sex marriage, although they support "civil unions" or "domestic partnerships."

Two years ago, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., currently the Democratic Party's likely nominee, signed a letter urging Massachusetts state lawmakers to drop a constitutional amendment that limited marriage to "only the union of one man and one woman." Kerry and 11 other members of the state's congressional delegation wrote, "We believe it would be a grave error for Massachusetts to enshrine in our Constitution a provision which would have such a negative effect on so many of our fellow residents." Yet, earlier this month, after the Massachusetts court ruling, Kerry said, "I oppose gay marriage and disagree with the Massachusetts Court's decision. . . . I'm for civil union, I'm for partnership rights." That's Kerry -- ever consistent.

Some critics of same-sex marriage base their opposition on their religious beliefs. Others argue that no society or culture, however "primitive," sanctions such relationships. Still others call same-sex marriage a slippery slope, resulting in the possibility of multiple partner marriages, or marriages between family members.

Yet in our society, we see high levels of divorce. Government policies already strain marriage. These include no-fault divorce, high taxes and "social safety net" legislation like Medicare and Medicaid, which loosen our dependency on the family.

So, what's the answer?

Two years ago, during his 2000 vice-presidential debate, Vice President Dick Cheney pretty much nailed it. In responding to a question on this issue, he said, "The question . . . of whether or not there ought to be some kind of official sanction . . . of the relationship or if these relationships should be treated the same way a conventional marriage is -- that's a tougher problem. . . . The fact . . . is that matter is regulated by the states. I think different states are likely to come to different conclusions and that's appropriate. I don't think there should necessarily be a federal policy in this area."

Cheney stopped a little short. How about government simply getting out of the marriage-license-granting business? (Ditto for government licenses necessary to cut hair, drive a taxi, open a business or enter a profession.) Leave marriage to non-governmental institutions, like churches, synagogues, mosques, and other houses of worship or private institutions.

Adultery, although legal, remains a sin subject to societal condemnation. It's tough to legislate away condemnation or legislate in approval. Those who view same-sex marriage as sinful will continue to do so, no matter what the government, the courts or their neighbors say.

Our society will endure.