Polygamy Slips the Noose

Subject: Chicken Little gays

Does this week’s change in the wording of the federal marriage amendment [FMA] mean that the proponents are desperate? Doesn’t this mean they can’t get the support? I wonder if we are getting exercised about something and doing a lot of fear mongering about something that will not see the light of day. One thing that bothers me about the gay community is that there is always a Chicken Little attitude. Maybe we should put faith in the fact that people see the amendment as a terrible thing for our nation and the Constitution.

Re: Chicken Little gays

How can anyone actually believe gays and lesbians are overreacting as the president attempts to enshrine discrimination in the Constitution? Just because our opponents appear to be hitting roadblocks and changing strategy doesn’t mean they won’t get what they want––or something close to it––in the end. These people are ruthless and determined, and the only response is to take them head on and certainly not become complacent.

The change in the wording of the amendment––initially introduced by Marilyn Musgrave, a Colorado Republican in the House––does show that amendment backers are doing whatever they can to get more support, trying to make the amendment appear softer. In explaining the change, the amendment’s supporters claim that the new wording will allow states to sanction civil unions for gays, if not marriage. But gay activists and groups like the American Civil Liberties Union say that the change in the wording does nothing of the kind and is still vague and open to interpretation. Meanwhile, an alternative amendment, by Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, is making the rounds––again––another indication of the determination to find some way to get an amendment done among some Republicans in Congress.

It’s true that support for the amendment seems to be shallow, with many members of the House and Senate saying privately that they don’t want to amend the Constitution. But I take issue with the claim that the gay community too often plays Chicken Little and thus is overreacting again. Lobbyists in Washington with whom I’ve spoken say that opposition to the amendment is also rather soft and that things can turn on a dime. Despite Republican reticence, albeit private, toward the amendment, if forced to vote they might not want to disagree with the president or their constituents back home. Some polls show almost half of the American public support an amendment. All it will take, these pro-gay lobbyists say, is for several moderate Republicans to cave in, which could make some Democrats begin to cave.

Anyone who thinks this is a Chicken Little mentality need only look back at the gays in the military debacle in 1993 to see how quickly things can turn against us.

As it stands, Republican leaders in the House and Senate seem to want to just keep the discussion going in Congress—thus getting media attention and stoking votes for George W. Bush––while not actually bringing the amendment to a vote and risking loss. But the fact that it’s even being debated in Congress is dangerous because events can suddenly shift momentum. As the president, for example, comes under further criticism regarding his response to 9/11 and the war in Iraq, the desperation in the White House to change the subject––and for Bush to push harder on the FMA––may increase.

What we have to do is to keep speaking out and keep pointing out right-wingers’ hypocrisy. One thing about the new wording in the amendment that few reports have focused on is the fact that it now defines marriage as a union “between a man and a woman” rather than between “one man and one woman,” despite the fact that the “one man, one woman” phrase apparently would kill any Constitutional challenge to laws against polygamy, the possibility of which gay marriage opponents have frequently warned. It is absolutely hilarious that given the opportunity to actually ban polygamy in the Constitution, the amendment’s supporters have chosen a course that would protect challenges to polygamy laws!

Perhaps they’re afraid that some people who support polygamy––including conservative Mormons in Utah––won’t support an amendment against same-sex marriage that bans polygamy. Senator Wayne Allard of Colorado, a Republican Senate sponsor of the Musgrave amendment, claims, however, that the subtle word change is really based on fears of weakening divorce, which is of course just as hypocritical and ridiculous.

“The Colorado senator acknowledged that he and Musgrave purposefully did not define marriage as a union between ‘one man and one woman,’ which would have effectively eliminated any possible ambiguity over the unconstitutionality of plural marriage, which Congress outlawed in 1882,” The Salt Lake Tribune reported this week. “We had a real definite debate on that,” Allard told the newspaper. “If you say ‘one man and one woman,’ that creates issues about divorces and remarrying, so we didn’t want to go into that. So that’s why we have ‘a man and a woman.’”

I thought the whole idea was to strengthen marriage and protect it from such things as polygamy? But here the key Congressional sponsors are retreating from language that would stop any challenges to polygamy laws in their tracks and claiming that they have to do that in order protect divorce––which is, of course, the greatest real world threat to marriage. More proof that the federal marriage amendment is only about one thing: homophobia.

Email Mike Signorile at Mike@Signorile.com.

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