My hero, Robert Kennedy, once said, “We know that if one man’s rights are denied, the rights of all are endangered.” This aphorism could be employed to deride the Kafkaesque Patriot Act or to defend the aim of affirmative action. Kennedy said it within the context of the Civil Rights movement, but its words resonate today to include the modern struggle of gays and lesbians.Surprisingly, frank and ideological politicians on both sides of the marriage issue are drawing lines in the sand, dividing America. Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco, ordered city hall to perform same-sex marriages in direct defiance of California’s state constitution. Conversely, George Bush has expressed his support for a Constitutional amendment defining marriage as that between one male and one female. Despite one’s political affiliation, the proactive measures each side has applied are invigorating. Politic masks have been removed and politi-cians are actually becoming passionate!
Personally, the proposal for an amendment frightens me. The only amendment ever to limit personal freedom was the eighteenth (prohibition), which was consequently repealed with the twenty-first. Civilization tends to slowly accept diversity over time, relegating archaic practices and laws to their respective era and obsolete dogmas. Jefferson wrote, “We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors,” concerning his position towards the alterations of society’s laws. Same-sex couples have acquired more acceptance and rights in recent years, yet the conservative movement in this country is attempting to legally discontinue their progress. It is an act of severe desperation and vociferous prejudice.
While the president and most conservatives have been careful to express their beliefs using a solemn language, they have left much to implication. Sometimes the truth lies not in the words, but in the silence. When announcing his inclinations toward an amendment, President Bush said, “Ages of experience have taught humanity that the commitment of a husband and wife…promotes the stability of society.” The implication is clear: same-sex marriages would promote the instability of society. I suppose he envisions the republic crumbling into the sea like Atlantis or falling to the barbarians like Rome, but I sense that I would be completely unaf-fected by same-sex marriages and that life would continue the same, just a bit happier for some honey-mooners.
The president also expressed a desire to limit the government’s role in the lives of free citizens. It is then odd that his amendment would affect only that portion of society with which he himself does not morally agree. Are they then less free? Yes. His intention is to limit the freedom of gays and lesbians and do it before society, particularly our generation, exhibits a social and political acceptance of same-sex marriages: He wishes to salvage the last fragments of institutionalized prejudice.
As a rule, conservatives oppose the expansion of government and centralized power. Interestingly, though, Professor Paul Begala of Georgetown has documented President Bush supporting seven new amendments to the surprisingly short and successful U.S. Constitution. The president is attempting to create a new tradition rather than abide by the old.
As an institution, marriage has been threatened for decades, but never by the Gay and Lesbian community. Britney Spears’ exploits demonstrate its place in society, unrespected and as removable as a topcoat on a summer’s day; just ask Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh or Rudy Giuliani, each of whom have been married three times. The mayor of Chicago, John Daley, said it best with his words, “Marriage has been undermined by divorce, so don’t tell me about marriage. People should look in their own mirror. Marriage has been undermined for a number of years…don’t blame the gay and lesbian community.”
Marriage is about love, is it not? It is not about procreation, or else the government would disallow seniors or infertile couples to wed. And it is about legal rights and responsibilities, right? Hospital visitations, tax breaks, inheritance distribution, child custody and other legal complications are determined or granted through the institution of marriage. Could we then justify denying legal rights to people based on their sexual preference? Of course not, unless we wish to vindicate Jim Crow or apartheid.
Marriage is a decision to be made between two consenting adults. The state, as the ACLU demands, should not be in the position of arranging its citizens’ marriages. Will two gay men marrying in San Francisco affect your marriage? I seriously doubt the credentials of anyone who answers “yes.” The fifty percent divorce rate will do more to harm the sacred nature of marriage than any same-sex union. Should we then outlaw divorce or increase the prerequisites for matrimony? Of course not; that would infringe on the self-evident rights of all Americans, all non-gay Americans at least.
“Each time a man stands up for an ideal,” Robert Kennedy once declared, “or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” Arguably, Mayor Gavin Newsom’s exploits in San Francisco are exactly what Kennedy requested: the proactive improvement of the human condition, the toleration of diversity, and an equal societal foundation. Allowing two loving people to marry should not be a crime. Instead, it would be a crime to disallow the public declaration of those two peoples’ love.
Bill Casto is a senior and studying literature with a minor in history.