July 14th, 2004

flavored with age

Okay, what?

Thankfully, the vote on an amendment to ban gay marriage looks utterly doomed. But that doesn't mean we don't get to hear a lot of nonsensical vaporing from its rabid supporters! It's a typical election-year move to hammer hot-button social issues, and bread-and-butter conservatives can always score points with the Sunday-go-to-meetin' crowd by engaging in high-profile fag-bashing, but as predictable as it might be, some of the rhetoric that spills out of them is pretty astonishing:

Whatever its future in Congress, there were signs that supporters of the amendment intended to use it in the campaign already unfolding.

"The institution of marriage is under fire from extremist groups in Washington, politicians, even judges who have made it clear that they are willing to run over any state law defining marriage," Republican senatorial candidate John Thune says in a radio commercial airing in South Dakota.

Now, how exactly would letting gays get married put the institution of marriage under fire? No one's talking about BANNING marriage, or of ending it as an institution. In fact, what's being suggested is that MORE people be allowed to get married! And, I mean, wouldn't the best way to ensure that an institution survive be to get more people involved in that institution? Wouldn't extending to more people the opportunity to participate in a tradition be a pretty good way to ensure that tradition's survival? I don't have a personal stake in this, since I'm not gay and I'm never getting married, but the argument that increasing people's access to a social institution endangers that social institution seems like kind of a hard sell.

"If you support ... a mother and a father for every child, you are a hater. If you believe that men and women for 5,000 years have bonded together in marriage, you're a gay-basher. Marriage is hate. Marriage is a stain. Marriage is an evil thing. That's what we hear," said Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa.

Of course, Rick Santorum is a pathetic creature, a bleating ideologue who's no more in the business of making sense than Bob Dornan was in the business of being sane. It's almost futile to listen to, let alone refute, anything he has to say, because he so rarely says anything rational. But honestly, where in the world does this come from? Who's saying these things? Not even the most vociferous homosexual rights advocates have said anything of the kind. "Marriage is hate"? "Marriage is a stain"? "Marriage is an evil thing"? Show me one example of anyone involved in the gay marriage debate who has said anything even remotely like this. In fact, millions of gay people are fighting for the right to get married! That's the central issue in the debate! If they thought marriage was a hateful, evil stain, they probably wouldn't be quite so keen to get married, would they? "That's what we hear"? From who, exactly?

There's nothing about the opposition to gay marriage that will wash. It doesn't work from a social perspective, because this is the 21st century and most people, if they don't actually support gay marriage, don't really oppose it either; they just don't care. The ones who do are religious ideologues, who we probably don't want dictating social policy in this country (letting religious ideologues dictate social policy hasn't turned out really well in, say, Afghanistan, or Iran). It doesn't work from a legal perspective either, despite all this ludicrous vaporing about "activist judges"; with a 40-year history of high court precedent going back to the Civil Rights era, if the issue ever gets to the Supreme Court, it would be the height of hypocrisy for them to strike down the right to gay marriage -- to do so would make hash of dozens of previous decisions from Brown vs. Board of Education to the cases leading to the establishment of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It doesn't work from a rational perspective; as I've noted above, you can't argue that the institution of marriage is being attacked when all the people on the opposite side of the argument are eagerly awaiting the chance to get married. And it does make us look rather like fools that we're busy fighting a war in the middle east, putatively to bring basic freedoms to the people of Iraq, while simultaneously proposing a constitutional amendment that would deny basic freedoms to millions of American citizens.

Assuming that our elected officials and high courts don't go completely gaga -- always a risky assumption -- an amendment banning gay marriage is going nowhere. But it's a long journey from here to nowhere, and there's going to be a lot of ugly litter thrown from the car before it gets there. If 'santorum' hadn't already been co-opted as a sexual term by Dan Savage's readers, I'd suggest it be used to mean the sort of foul-smelling rhetorical garbage that always gets dumped when divisive and oppressive legislation is being pushed by the party of the right.