To: Senator Dianne Feinstein, US Senate
Senator Barbara Boxer, US Senate
From: Dave at DMI, Registered California Voter
Re: Vote "Yes" on the proposed marriage amendment
Last Sunday a letter was read from the pulpit in my local LDS congregation encouraging members of the LDS Church to write their US senators and express their opinion regarding the proposed federal marriage amendment that is coming up for a vote shortly. This request forced me to consider the good arguments on both sides of this sharply disputed issue. I found the lengthy but enlightening online discussion on the topic at several LDS weblogs quite useful: posts at the timely if not seasonal Times & Seasons; the anything but common By Common Consent; the ornately bannered Baron of Deseret; the reliably conservative Messenger & Advocate; and the reliably even more conservative Millennial Star all make for productive reading. For me, it's a close issue, but I encourage you to vote in favor of the amendment.
Reasons To Vote No
I recognize there are good reasons not to enact such an amendment. First, you can't legislate morality. Prohibition is only the best example of that principle. A federal amendment prohibiting any form of marriage other than monogamy between a man and a woman will not change the mind of anyone who feels other forms of marriage deserve some sort of recognition. It will only raise the stakes in the debate and force some sort of enforcement on individuals or governments that violate the substance of the amendment, which will in turn create more opposition. The efforts of the federal government to stamp out polygamy in the 19th century show how messy such an effort can become.
Second, the amendment looks like a manufactured election issue rather than a carefully considered legislative solution. It seems like it is designed to get out the troops and energize conservative voters rather than to support a compromise between the legitimate concerns of those who oppose gay marriage and those who support it. A proposed amendment like this one forces an up or down vote and pushes people to the extremes. More moderate options get ignored in an "all or nothing" referendum on gay marriage. I think the issue deserves more discussion by elected representatives than it has received.
Granted, even a polarizing amendment proposal may be better than just throwing the issue to the courts: Dred Scott and Roe v. Wade opened up bitter and permanent divisions in the electorates of their day. The people and their elected representatives deserve to be part of the decision-making process. Even the ERA fight did not embitter people like court-mandated solutions in Dred Scott and Roe v. Wade did. And legislative solutions are more easily reversed if found to be unworkable. Legislative solutions do work better than judicial ones on these sorts of social issues. But trying to fashion a legislative compromise in the heat of election politics, by way of a proposed amendment, is clearly not the best way to make that attempt.
Third, I don't believe federalizing marriage is really the best way to solve whatever problem exists. Marriage has always been a state responsibility. The federal government doesn't do much for education, another state responsibility, despite the billions that are spent at the federal level. I don't see how an expanding federal involvement in marriage (and it will expand dramatically if the amendment is passed!) is going to be any more productive. A federal amendment didn't work very well with Prohibition. It might not work very well with marriage. Or it might work differently than anyone who supports the proposed amendment now anticipates. For example, how would it be enforced? Will we have the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Marriage? So even if one is opposed to gay marriage, one may still oppose the proposed amendment as simply the wrong way to proceed.
Reasons To Vote Yes
Despite the above-mentioned reasons to oppose the proposed amendment, I still encourage you to vote "Yes" when it comes up for a vote. First, Europe is farther along the road to broadening the legal scope of marriage to include gay partnerships — we can learn from their experience. There, the effect there on traditional marriage has not been positive. European birthrates are in decline everywhere and marriage means almost nothing in many European countries. When traditional marriage loses its traditional meaning and context, the mutual commitment between husband and wife necessary to keep a couple together during the many challenging years of bearing and rearing children loses its foundation.
This country does truly need social policies designed to support traditional families. Such policies help to maintain social expectations that motivate parents to stay together and make the necessary sacrifices to raise good kids (i.e., those who avoid gangs and crime, get and keep jobs, and pay taxes to support all those expensive social programs politicians like to create). Leave traditional marriage for couples who generally bear and raise children. That's who it was designed for (and by "designed" I mean developed over millennia of social experience).
Second, gay couples already have many of the benefits those who advocate full gay marriage seek. Domestic partner benefits are widely available to gay partners. The individuals in such unions (whatever the status of the couple) can, I believe, already be awarded custody of minor children should a judge so direct. Gay couples can leave property to each other by will or other arrangement, such as joint bank accounts or life insurance beneficiary designations. Gay couples can already make whatever mutual commitments they desire, and many denominations are open to blessing that commitment with some sort of religious recognition. The proposed amendment may even lend support to civil union legislation, legal recognition of committed gay couples short of full traditional marriage. So enacting the amendment will work no hardship on gay couples.
Third, the rights and benefits of traditional marriage are not free gifts. They are balanced by the obligations and responsibilities that fall on men and women in traditional marriages. Many of these relate to their duties as parents. Since gay couples don't generally have children (adoption by gay couples is its own controversial topic that I won't address here), it seems unfair to grant them the full benefits of traditional marriage. As noted in the previoius paragraph, gay couples can already obtain many of the benefits traditional marriage offers. Leave traditional marriage for couples who are likely to face the burdens of having and raising kids.
I sincerely wish you the best in your many duties as a United States Senator.
Dave from DMI
[Comments are closed on this post. If you feel a need to reply, you can post comments at your own weblog or just email me directly.]