Gay marriage, San Francisco-style

Posted: Feb 26, 2004 12:00 AM
Tuesday President Bush announced his support for a constitutional amendment to protect marriage in the strongest possible terms. Meanwhile, in California, a majority of San Franciscans support gay marriage. And so, despite the fact that a few short years ago, a majority of Californians voted to define marriage in state law as the union of a man and a woman, the mayor of San Francisco decided he was above the law and ordered clerks to issue putative marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Americans have a tradition of civil disobedience, in which ordinary citizens risk jail in order to affirm a higher moral law. But last week, for the first time, Americans were treated to the spectacle of a powerful politician charged with enforcing the law instead publicly flouting it for political gain.

And advocates for same-sex marriage patted him on the back for it.

This is not the first time gay couples have been issued marriage licenses. A Colorado clerk did the same thing back in the '70s. Those marriages were null and void, and so, under California state law, are these.

The marriage application was altered, as it had to be, to fit the radically transformed institution the mayor of San Francisco tried to create. "I have given one too many wedding gifts to people in my life, and for a minute I thought it was time for payback," one of these same-sex couples told The New York Times. "But what I really want is the 1049 federal rights that come with marriage."

To make this unisex dream come true, the marriage application was the first thing that had to go. The spaces for "bride" and "groom" were eliminated, replaced by "first applicant" and "second applicant."

Do you, the first applicant, take the second applicant to be a lawfully wedded applicant for 1049 federal benefits for the rest of your life?

It is a harbinger of things to come. All of the time-honored assumptions of marriage -- bride and groom, husband and wife, mother and father -- must be rewritten to accommodate a tiny fraction of the population who wants to form alternative families. When I suggested in a recent exchange with gay civil rights advocate Evan Wolfson that marriage was about affirming the ideal that both mothers and fathers matter to children, he denounced the idea as an "offensive proposition."

People who believe they are on the civil rights crusade of the century have little tolerance for reasoned debate; they show little concern over the larger impact that radically redefining marriage could have on the next generation, directly and indirectly. "How could this affect you and your family?" a Human Rights Campaign spokesman practically screamed at me on ABC's "Nightline," as I began to explain how marriage will change if we let this happen. But that's just the point. Sometimes, someone has to stand up for the common good.

A recent Winston Group poll circulated by the Alliance for Marriage (which opposes same-sex marriage) asked Americans if they support a constitutional amendment to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Sixty-one percent said yes.

In what amounts to a bit of interesting push-polling, the pollsters next asked: "If gay marriage were made legal and schools were then required to change their curriculum to treat gay marriages in the same manner as traditional marriages, would you favor or oppose gay marriage?"

Opposition jumped to 69 percent, with just 24 percent of Americans favoring single-sex marriage.

I call it a "push-poll," yet it accurately describes just one of many consequences of gay marriage: Home economics classes, abstinence education, marriage and family life courses, even teen pregnancy prevention courses -- anywhere the word "marriage" is used in public schools, the new unisex version of marriage could be pushed.

Marriage is not a private application for federal benefits. It is a shared public act, a social institution that depends on a common, shared culture of marriage.

Or not, as the case may be, if the special-interests have their way in San Francisco.