Forcing our hand

Rich Tucker
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Posted: Feb 27, 2004 12:00 AM

On a long-ago episode of ?The Simpsons,? Homer sits watching the news. ?Authorities announced today that Springfield?s air is dangerous only to children and the elderly,? the announcer intones. ?Whohoo!? Homer shouts.

The scene uses humor to make a valid point about human nature. In general, we?re concerned only about the things that directly affect us. Homer is raising children and has an elderly father -- but he?s relieved because the bad air in town is no longer a direct danger to him.

That same principle is now playing out with gay marriage. For years, most Americans have been going along and getting along on this issue. Vermont introduced ?civil unions? in 2000 with plenty of fanfare, but no national disruption.

Yet today many Americans, including the president, suddenly see the need to amend the Constitution to prevent gay marriage.

In theory, this issue should have no effect on the 97 percent of us who aren?t gay. But activists have pushed so far, so fast, that they?ve forced us to recognize a problem, one that can be fixed only by taking the radical step of amending the Constitution.

Marriage, after all, is an important word, and an important concept. It has always meant the union of a man and a woman, and it serves as the keystone of civil society. Polls prove most Americans want it to remain that.

Of course, that?s unfair to a tiny minority of Americans who, because they are gay, will never be allowed to be married.
However, for the word ?marriage? to have any meaning in the future, it has to mean what it?s always meant in the past.

Let?s face it: Some words are defined not simply by whom they include, but by whom they exclude. That means there are certain things some people simply can?t have. Because of the actions of biology, I am a father, but can never be a mother.

And by definition, the word ?father? eliminates half the people in the country from being able to partake of the rights and benefits (and drawbacks) it bestows. That?s unfair to women. Some might prefer to call themselves a ?father? (maybe so they can play in the father-son basketball tournament?) and cannot do so.

Of course, so far, nobody?s raised an objection to the definition of the word ?father.? But clearly, the meaning of ?marriage? is under attack. In California, the mayor of San Francisco is ignoring state law and sanctioning gay marriages. So much for popular sovereignty.

In Massachusetts, a rogue court decided, by a one-vote margin, that it could tell the legislative and executive branches of that state what they must do. So much for separation of powers.

These developments leave only one possible remedy. As President Bush put it, ?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.?

An amendment is the only way to take this issue off the table. Sure, we already have the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which gives states the right to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages licensed in other states. That measure passed overwhelmingly in 1996 and was signed by President Clinton, who on other issues was a crusader for gay rights.

But the DoMA isn?t enough. As Massachusetts shows, we?re just one activist court decision away from seeing the will of the people overridden. California?s tireless 9th Circuit is probably getting ready to issue that decision.

But despite the actions of a few rogue elected officials or our robe-clad masters on a narrowly divided court, marriage must continue to mean the union of a man and a woman. That requires a constitutional amendment.

Opponents of traditional marriage are nervous because such an amendment would close off the judicial path they?re eager to use. So they?re attempting to cloud the issue. ?The purpose of a constitution is to protect a minority group from the wrath of the majority,? opined Elizabeth Birch, director of the gay rights organization Human Rights Campaign.

Well, no. The purpose of a constitution is to define how a government operates.

Our Constitution includes 27 amendments. Most of them explain things the government may not do, and this proposed 28th Amendment would do the same thing: it would make clear that the government shall not change the traditional definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman.

Marriage matters to all of us. And now that we?re all paying attention, it?s going to be protected, once and for all.