Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Gay marriage without war

Jonathan Rauch in his book “Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America” details his moral and humanitarian arguments for the adoption of gay marriage. He is also against its imposition or prohibition through legal fiat or Constitutional tinkering. He contends that a federalist approach is the best and most workable means of getting there without creating another catastrophic splintering within our society. Now, I have not read the book but I did see him on C-Span where he was part of a panel discussing the topic while concomitantly hawking his new book. I take no issue with that effort, since as a result I have the advantage of at least seeing a video-taped Reader’s Digest version. If we are determined to conduct the major social experiment that gay marriage will entail, I tend to agree with him on method but not justification.

For purposes of this forum, I trust that I can avoid injecting my own moral judgments into the debate. I will try to eschew both approval and condemnation of the morality associated with the behavior or assertions under discussion. The Constitution is at its core not much more than a political cookbook. It’s basically amoral but has strong moral underpinnings. Whether or not the recipe will turn out to be appetizing is a proof found only in the pudding. If it works, it’s good. Otherwise, toss it out. This is the pragmatism that binds it as egg does the batter. So far, it has stood the test of time rather well and has proven itself the tastiest political feast on the planet. And the pudding that most convincingly offers the proof is the voluntary one-way vote-with-your feet migration into and not out of the land that beckons from sea to shining sea.

But let’s not get too sentimental. One doesn’t get all excited reading and attempting to follow assembly instructions. Nor – and trust me on this as I’m an ex-Air Force pilot – does one find it easy to maintain consciousness reading FAA regulations. But those things are closer in nature to the structure and purpose of the Constitution than all the glowing accolades so often used to describe our system of government. It’s a basic set of rules that shouldn’t be tinkered with lightly and then only when necessary. Think of it as what the Swedes went through when they decided they would stop driving on the same side of the road as the Brits. On a Sunday morning in September of 1967 they swung over to the right. (Unfortunately, this has not been the case politically.) You don’t do that sort of thing very often, without great difficulty, and it’s quite unlikely that you’ll go back once the change has been made.

As with all analogy this is imperfect, but it does illustrate what we’re talking about when we consider giving gay marriage a legal imprimatur. It will be difficult and once done we would find it nearly impossible to undo. But, and here’s the bit where the analogy breaks down, unlike switching road-driving sides, we can do it one-step-at-a-time. Just thinking about attempting a paced driving-side changeover conjures up countless humorous images. But the beauty of federalism is that we can experiment in one or a few states without throwing the whole country into a tizzy. Certainly makes sense to test market the recipe before building the plant and going into full-scale production.

For we will have to consider more than just a few issues, conduct a number of experiments, work through the wrangling and log-rolling that invariably lubricates political decisions. But that lubricant is 50w and the wheels turn slowly. And not to no purpose. If gay activists insist on bludgeoning the rest of American society by demanding a “I want it done yesterday” approach, we’re in for struggle that could make the abortion issue seem like child’s play. And that conflict will make for some interesting bedfellows. In March of 2004, a group of black clergy held a rally protesting the reluctance of Georgia’s Democratic state legislators to pass an amendment to the state constitution banning gay marriage. African-Americans in a number of communities across the country have voiced serious objection to gays equating the marriage issue to the struggle of blacks to achieve their full measure of civil rights. Gay marriage has the potential to produce some seismic shifting in the political landscape.

What the Founding Fathers wrought would then appear quite adequate to handle the gay marriage issue. Just don’t muck it up. Keep the Constitution amenders and the judicial activators out of the equation and we could probably resolve the issue without generating multiple social and political crises within these hallowed borders. The difficulty is that there are so many of the elites and Olympians who think they know better. They’ve certainly shown us that with busing and abortion, haven’t they? No discord sown there. They did get it right when it came to true civil rights for minorities. But these were rights based on just being a person, not a right granted to sanction a preferred personal behavior. Not the same thing. Not at all.

If you’re curious as to why I seem reluctant to advocate a change to the Constitution that would ban gay marriage, even if I personally object to adopting this new social milieu, here’s the answer. Gay marriage is an end product, the finished goods, not a recipe. It can never stand as part of government structure or process. The Constitution is a rule book. Changing the recipe can lead to unexpected results. I know I’m not wise enough to imagine, let alone predict all the results of making a change. Unfortunately, those Olympians that one would expect to know have often seemed little more capable with their predictions, the full consequences of their Constitutional tinkering seldom being foreseen. All, well, many things considered, James Madison and his fellow Framers seem to have had a very well polished crystal ball indeed. Think I’ll listen first to what they have to say before I will some others.

Next time: The Constitution - what should be changed and why


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