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WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE?
Magpie is a former journalist, attempted historian [No, you can't ask how her thesis is going], and full-time corvid of the lesbian persuasion. She keeps herself in birdseed by writing those bad computer manuals that you toss out without bothering to read them. She also blogs too much when she's not on deadline, both here and at Pacific Views.

Magpie roosts in Portland, Oregon, where she annoys her housemates (as well as her cats Medea, Whiskers, and Jane Doe) by attempting to play Irish music on the fiddle and concertina.

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Saturday, June 3, 2006

Conjuring up the terrifying spectre of same-sex marriage.

Dubya is doing it again, hoping that he can stem the erosion of his political base, and scare people into voting Republican this November.

In his radio address earlier today, the prez threw a big bone to his diminishing right-wing base by coming out four-square in favor of amending the Constitution to bar same-sex marriages. Here's a big chunk of the address, so that you can appreciate Dubya's pandering to the religious right in all of its homophobic, pandering awfulness:

Lesbian newlyweds. Scary, aren't they?

The threat to the nation.
[Photographer unknown]

 
Marriage is the most enduring and important human institution, honored and encouraged in all cultures and by every religious faith. Ages of experience have taught us that the commitment of a husband and a wife to love and to serve one another promotes the welfare of children and the stability of society. Marriage cannot be cut off from its cultural, religious, and natural roots without weakening this good influence on society. Government, by recognizing and protecting marriage, serves the interests of all.

In our free society, people have the right to choose how they live their lives. And in a free society, decisions about such a fundamental social institution as marriage should be made by the people -- not by the courts. The American people have spoken clearly on this issue, both through their representatives and at the ballot box. In 1996, Congress approved the Defense of Marriage Act by overwhelming bipartisan majorities in both the House and Senate, and President Clinton signed it into law. And since then, voters in 19 states have approved amendments to their state constitutions that protect the traditional definition of marriage. And today, 45 of the 50 states have either a state constitutional amendment or statute defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. These amendments and laws express a broad consensus in our country for protecting the institution of marriage.
Unfortunately, activist judges and some local officials have made an aggressive attempt to redefine marriage in recent years. Since 2004, state courts in Washington, California, Maryland, and New York have overturned laws protecting marriage in those states. And in Nebraska, a federal judge overturned a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

These court decisions could have an impact on our whole Nation. The Defense of Marriage Act declares that no state is required to accept another state's definition of marriage. If that act is overturned by activist courts, then marriages recognized in one city or state might have to be recognized as marriages everywhere else. That would mean that every state would have to recognize marriages redefined by judges in Massachusetts or local officials in San Francisco, no matter what their own laws or state constitutions say. This national question requires a national solution, and on an issue of such profound importance, that solution should come from the people, not the courts.

I'm going to leave aside the fact that all of this is just posturing because — in the unlikely event that both houses of Congress pass the amendment by a two-thirds majority — there's no chance that two-thirds of the states will ratify it.

And I'll leave aside wondering how Dubya reconciles this comment:

In our free society, people have the right to choose how they live their lives.
with the fact that he's pushing a constitutional amendment that will keep millions of lesbian and gay citizens from being able to choose to live their lives as marrried couples.

Instead, what I want to talk about is the prez's insistence that 'decisions about such a fundamental social institution as marriage should be made by the people -- not by the courts.' Since Dubya isn't a student of history and doesn't read books, I'm sure he has no clue that the current debate over same-sex marriages is far from the first time the the people of the US have had to decide what kind of marriages are allowed and what kinds aren't. For much of the country's history, the 'will of the people' was that miscegenation — marriages between partners of different races — should be legally forbidden. Anti-miscegenation laws go all the way back to 1661, when the Virginia colony passed a law barring interracial marriages. By the early 20th century, 38 states had laws against marriages between blacks and whites, and some states also barred marriages between whites and Native Americans or other 'nonwhite' people.

Anti-miscegenation laws started getting taken off the books after the Second World War, but some states (mostly, but not all, in the South), didn't legalize interracial marriages until forced to by the US Supreme Court's 1967 ruling in Loving v. Virginia, in which it ruled that anti-miscegenation laws violate the 14th Amendment. Here's how Chief Justice Earl Warren concluded the Court's decision:

"Marriage is one of the 'basic civil rights of man,' fundamental to our very existence and survival.... To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State."

In Loving v. Virginia, the Supremes tossed out centuries of US and English colonial law, which had made it impossible for interracial couples to marry. The Court didn't care that most people in the country probably would have supported anti-miscegenation laws, and it certainly didn't care that most Virginians were in favor of their state's ban on interracial marriages. What mattered to the justices was the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equality under the law of all US citizens. Denying the 'fundamental freedom' of citizens to marry violated that guarantee. While there's no way to know whether Chief Justice Warren would support same-sex marriages if he were alive today, ith few changes, Warren's conclusion could easily be used to make the constitutional case for overturning any legal obstructions to same-sex marriages.

So here we are in 2006, and the current president is blowing off the Supreme Court's conclusion in Loving, that laws governing marriage have to meet the same constitutional test as any other laws. Dubya knows that the proposed amendment banning same-sex marriages isn't going to go anywhere, but he's still willing to whip up public sentiment against those marriages and — more importantly — against 'activist' courts and judges that insist that the rights guaranteed by the Constitution apply to everyone, even if they're a gay man or a lesbian.

Given Dubya's insistence that what the people want is more important than what the law requires, this magpie would love to know what the prez thinks of the Loving v. Virginia ruling. Does he think that the Supremes were just another bunch of activist judges when they tossed out Virginia's ban on interracial marriages? Does he think that the Court should have deferred to the majority of Virginians who supported the ban? Does he think that the Loving decision should be overturned, just like he thinks Roe v. Wade should be tossed out?

Inquiring magpies want to know, and some journalist should put those questions to the prez sometime after he makes his big speech against same-sex marriage on Monday. (Helen Thomas, are you reading this?]

| | Posted by Magpie at 1:13 PM | Get permalink




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