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The Tentacle


February 3, 2006

Legislation and Marriage

Tony Soltero

A certain Republican delegate in the Maryland General Assembly has decided that the main issue facing Marylanders this year is not health care, not education, not our road and highway infrastructure, not jobs and the economy, and not even taxes, but the "protection of marriage."

My first impression was, well, this is an odd priority, but "good for him." Marriage is an essential institution, as it provides a critical structural foundation for couples who commit to each other for a lifetime and serves as a stabilizing force for society.

So, I eagerly pulled out a copy of this delegate's proposed constitutional amendment, just to see what kinds of measures it took against the biggest threat to marriage and families facing our state today.

I read the brief proposed amendment, and re-read it, and I grew more and more puzzled. This bill is supposed to be about "marriage protection," but I did not see one single reference to divorce.

Not a one. I was astonished. It was like a "Homeland Security" bill that didn't mention terrorism, or a "Disaster Preparedness" bill lacking an evacuation plan.

There is nothing in there about divorce which is - by definition - the dissolution of this supposedly critical-to-society institution, and which occurs in Maryland - and nationwide - at an alarmingly frequent rate. You'd think that those who wring their hands about "threats to marriage" would be screaming from the rooftops to amend the Constitution to put an end to such a dreadful event.

Certainly, it doesn't sound like this delegate is really all that concerned about protecting marriage, given his lack of concern about divorce (or domestic violence, for that matter). The amendment's title is a lie - blatant false advertising by a member of a political party that has built its brand on lies and false advertising.

So, what is his agenda then?

Well, the text of the proposed amendment makes this as plain as day: the delegate is trying to score political points with Maryland's Taliban element by picking upon the easiest of targets - gay people. The amendment is simply a blatant attempt to pander to far-right fundamentalists by relegating gay people to third-class citizenship.

The ever-reductionist media is packaging this as a "gay marriage" bill, but that's a smokescreen. The proposed amendment doesn't simply stop at the word "marriage;" it goes out of its way to deny gay people basic human rights, such as the right to designate one's primary contact in the event of an illness, or the right to designate the disposal of one's estate upon death. Given its vague wording, it also potentially infringes upon the rights of businesses who might choose to extend benefits to domestic partners of employees (which isn't limited to gay couples, by the way). So much for the Republicans being the party of non-interfering government!

The amendment has attracted a number of co-sponsors, most revealingly certain "moderate" Frederick Republicans who really should (and do) know better, but who have instead chosen to goose-step along with the fundamentalists, and proving, once again, that the independent, moderate, pro-individual-rights Republican has gone the way of the quagga and the dodo bird. I guess this shouldn't be surprising, given that the GOP's most popular propagandist is a thrice-divorced drug addict, but they've truly become pod people.

Let's be clear here: any legislator, of either party, who claims to be "protecting marriage" by supporting this bill, is misleading the public. This amendment does as much to protect marriage as it does to protect Carroll Creek from piranhas.

There is absolutely no logical or rational basis - none - for arguing that allowing gay people the right to form contracts with each other (whatever the terminology attached to such contracts) threatens anybody's marriage.

The far right likes to pretend that individual rights are a zero-sum game, a precious resource that must be carefully rationed lest some groups hog them all for themselves, and thus it throws up this strawman that respecting the rights of gay couples somehow detracts from the integrity of straight couples.

Of course, any rational person can see that one does not logically follow from the other and for media figures to parrot this false propaganda as if it were established fact is unprofessional and irresponsible.

Think about it: every day these people must live in a state of mind-numbing fear that the moment will arrive when they must tell their spouses: "Sorry, honey, our marriage is over. Brad and Bill down the street just got their will notarized. We must part ways immediately."

It must be rough to have to cope with such deep insecurities. Of course, some of the most virulent homophobes have their own unresolved personal issues pertaining to their sexuality, as we've seen, for instance, with disgraced former Spokane Mayor Jim West. Their hysterical screeching about the "threat" of gay people is their way of "proving" they're not gay. One wonders if any of our state legislators fit that description.

Then there are those who inject the red herring that "religion must be protected." Well, leaving aside that there are plenty of churches that oppose this amendment, no religion is being forced to recognize same-sex partnerships if it doesn't want to. Any faith can and does define marriage as it sees fit; the actions of the government (constitutionally prohibited from favoring one religion over another) are irrelevant to the internal traditions of any organized religion.

That's the essence of the separation of church and state, which is the 200-year-old precept that has prevented America from lapsing into an Iranian-style cleric-run hellhole. Hmmm...what does Osama bin Laden think about this proposed amendment?

So, what would constitute an honest effort to protect marriage and families?

The single most important action we can undertake to support families would involve the reduction of the incidence of divorce, which, as mentioned, is the actual, tangible destruction of a marriage; and far and away the single largest threat to the institution. To the limited extent that the government can do anything about this (it's a job best left to churches), any "pro-marriage" legislative initiative that doesn't address divorce is a fraud. But how do we cut down on divorce?

Well, it would require a multi-pronged strategy. We need to confront the forces that work to tear families apart - economic forces, marriages entered into too hastily, or for the wrong reasons, and the inadequacies of our current support structure.

Economic frustrations breed domestic violence, which sends marriages on a downward spiral. We would have to do our best to mitigate such forces. But given that many families are torn apart by financial pressures, and that the Republicans have consistently shown little interest in helping at-risk households with health-care access, living wages, and affordable quality education (for children or adults), it's a pretty clear conclusion that their current hand-wringing over "threats to families" is simply hollow, politically-motivated rhetoric.

The true motives of these reactionaries - buttressed by well-organized, out-of-state pressure groups with their own agendas - are clear in the empty posturing of certain elements in our General Assembly. This isn't about families; this is about trolling for votes.

If the Democrats are smart, they will deny the Republicans this opportunity by smothering this cynical, bogus amendment, and get on with the task of doing the real work to support our families.



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