Adovcacy News - Equal marriage tests the land of the free
February 25, 2004
marriage tests the land of the free
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 actions have created confusion on an issue
that requires clarity."
"We must use time creatively,
in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right ... Now is the time
to lift our national policy from the quicksand of injustice to the solid rock
of human dignity."
President Bush used the U.S. constitution as a political tool this election year, when he shamefully attacked American personhood yesterday, by calling for Congress to swiftly pass a constitutional amendment. The revision would send same-sex relationships to the back of the bus.
In his remarks, President Bush argued that an institution as fundamentally important to society as marriage cannot be tampered with by 'a few activist judges' or by 'regional authority'.
The President was obviously referring to recent events in San Francisco and New Mexico, as well as the equal marriage victory in Massachusetts. As in Canada, judges who simply uphold constitutional rights, when politicians refuse to do so, are labeled "activists".
Mr. Bush's reverence for aged cornerstones of society does not seem to extend to his own country's Constitution. The President seems to feel free to use that venerated institution for political ends. If successful, it would be the first time that the Constitution was ever modified to detract rights from a targeted minority group (the 18th Amendment in 1917 temporarily introduced alcohol prohibition/temperance for all Americans).
There is some question whether Congress would take such a drastic step. A move to place a constitutional firewall around an opposite-sex definition of marriage failed in Canada. Whether an amendment can succeed in the U.S. may be beside the point. The President's war cry is a bugle call to the conservative Christian right who will stampede to the ballot boxes in November, ready to save civilization as we know it.
In his remarks, Mr. Bush spoke with reverence about tradition, and in fact it is tradition he is counting on. The demographics of those who most often vote in elections lines up very neatly with the demographics of those individuals who are least likely to support equal marriage. Bush is gambling that the gay community will not be able to mobilize enough votes against him to overcome the gains he will make in shoring up the right.
We know the President will be on the wrong side of history with this human rights issue, however, he may also have miscalculated the impact of his radical proposal. While Bush has played to his Christian base, he has offended moderate Republicans who value liberty, freedom and justice. To those who question Bush's judgment in the Iraq war, the threat of a constitutional amendment also appears to be an over-reaction. Where is the WMD (weapon of marital destruction)?
Bush's stance may be extreme enough to draw complacent believers in equality into the political fray. For too long some of us have come to believe that the measure of tolerance is the Nielsen rating for Will & Grace or Queer Eye For the Straight Guy. Bush may galvanize some people into reclaiming their part in the political process.
We may find the prospect of what lays ahead daunting and disturbing, but if we are deserving of rights, then those rights deserve our efforts to secure them. Within hours of Bush's statement, queer groups in New York and Los Angeles announced rallies for last night. The lines have been drawn.
Although war, the economy, governance (corporate and public), health care, and education are all a concern, politicians and religious extremists have made equal marriage a key political issue. It's an issue that Canada has more experience with than most countries.
We know that the victories for equal marriage in Canada were due, in part, to U.S. civil rights cases like Brown v. Board of Education (school segregation) and Loving v. Virginia (interracial marriage). How fitting if the Canadian experience will, in turn, help advance civil rights further still, in the United States. Certainly both countries are engaged in a shared challenge to live up to the promises of rights and protections that come with full citizenship. Over the next two months we will be traveling to San Francisco, Buffalo, and Philadelphia to discuss the issues with our neighbors. Canada will be the featured country at Equality Forum, this year's premier summit on equal marriage. Later this year, Canadians can participate in an equal marriage auto caravan from San Diego to Vancouver. Our two countries have found a common cause to work together for: equality.
Meanwhile, gay and lesbian Americans continue to arrive in Ontario and British Columbia for marriage. Which all goes to show that as the American President turns his influence against gays and lesbians, Canadians will be working alongside American neighbors for our universal rights and dignity.