Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Same-sex marriage and the loss of the political soul

I got an e-mail alert from the Council For Secular Humanism a few days ago about a Senate Resolution to prohibit same-sex marriage. At the Council's take action page they write

Facing a midterm election with sinking poll numbers, conservatives are hoping to reach out to their base by renewing their push for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Senate Resolution 13 declares that marriage "shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman" and prohibits state governments from allowing any other form of marriage. The proposed amendment cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee in a party-line vote on May 18th and heads to the floor for a full Senate vote on June 5th.

This amendment attempts to define marriage according to religious terms rather than civil/secular terms and therefore violates the letter and spirit of the U.S. Constitution's First and Fourteenth Amendments. It diminishes the rights of millions of Americans and disgraces our Constitution by using it to legalize discrimination.

I think this "defense of marriage" codswallop has best been answered by David Englin, who as a freshman member of the Virginia House of Delegates, made the following speech on the third day of his first session back in January. (Via Orwell's Grave.)

Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong opposition to this resolution. I'm not going to talk about same-sex marriage. I'm no fool -- although others might make a different judgement about a freshman delegate rising in this chamber on the third day of session. But I understand that on the issue of marriage, I'm in the minority, perhaps even in my own caucus. I also sleep very well at night knowing that at some point in the future of this great Commonwealth, those of us of my opinion will be judged to have been on the right side of history. But let's for a moment forget about the question of same-sex marriage, because this amendment addresses much more than that. We need to be clear and honest: This amendment also outlaws civil unions and domestic partnerships and other similar private legal arrangements.

We have heard from the other side that this constitutional amendment is necessary to protect conventional marriage. I am blessed with a beautiful and brilliant wife who is the love of my life. In June, Shayna and I will celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary, and I would fight with every ounce of my strength anything that would threaten my marriage. So I would like to know, how exactly civil unions and domestic partnerships and other similar arrangements threaten my marriage?

We have heard from the other side that this amendment will protect families. Shayna and I are blessed with a strong and bright six-year-old son, Caleb, and we have a strong family. My friend the gentleman from Rockingham County, Delegate Lohr, and I have discussed how we come from different backgrounds and different parts of this great Commonwealth, yet we share a deep and abiding commitment to our families. I want nothing more than to protect my family. I spent 12 years wearing the uniform of the United States Air Force to protect my family. I've been in harm's way to protect my family. So I would like to know, how exactly do civil unions and domestic partnerships and other similar arrangements threaten my family? Because if they do, I will be the first one to stand up and fight, because nobody better threaten my family.

Moreover, we have heard from the other side that this amendment must pass sooner rather than later, as if there is some kind of crisis that is more important than issues like transportation or education or health care. Why else would this be our first order of business? Yet Virginia law already makes same-sex marriage and civil unions and domestic partnerships illegal.

So if this amendment doesn't help protect my marriage, and doesn't help protect my family, and if it doesn't even change the status of same-sex marriage and civil unions and domestic partnership contracts, then what exactly does this amendment do? I submit to my fair-minded colleagues that this amendment sends a message. And that message is, if you are gay, or lesbian, or even a man and a woman living together and committed to each other who are not married, you are not welcome in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

And who are these people whom we are shutting out in the cold?

They are my dear friends Karen and Sue, who have been together for years and are as loving and committed to each other as any husband and wife.

They are my friend Lou, who served with me at the Pentagon, and continues to serve our country today.

They are Father Mychal Judge, the gay priest who died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 while ministering to fallen firefighters.

They are Mark Bingham, a gay passenger on United Airlines Flight 93, who fought back against Al Queda hijackers and sacrificed his life to save others.

They are Ronald Gamboa and his partner Dan Brandhorst, who, along with their 3 year old son David, were killed when Al Quaeda flew United Airlines Flight 175 into the World Trade Center.

They are David Charlebois, the co-pilot of American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon when Al Qaeda tried to kill me and my comrades who were on duty inside the Pentagon at the time.

They are friends and neighbors and teachers and doctors and soldiers and loving parents who want nothing more than to live life without fear that the government will tear their families apart.

I'm a student of history, and I find our Founding Fathers to be a great source of wisdom on many matters, so I want to close my remarks by reading from a letter that great Virginian named George Washington wrote more than two centuries ago:

"The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for giving to Mankind . . . a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens.
May the Children of the Stock of Abraham who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid."

Ladies and gentlemen, I implore you, be strong and of good courage and vote down this resolution.
These are inspiring words, and it's obvious Englin was speaking from the heart. There is a sense of conviction in these words, of sincerity. These words have meaning.

But shouldn't this be the norm rather than an aberration? How often do you feel inspired by something a politician has said? Most of what we hear comes across as empty rhetoric designed by consultants and strategists; consultants and strategists whose goal is to garner votes, not to defend principles. When people fail to speak with conviction of their conscience, it shows. This marketing based PR approach to politics has drained the soul from politics.

Consider, for example, Al Gore in the 2000 election. Gore's passion was the environment and he wanted to make that a major focus of his campaign. But his consultants and strategists disagreed, and as a result the Gore we saw in the election came across as a passionless robot. If you can not campaign on the things that you believe in, how can you expect anyone to vote for you? If you can not get elected taking a stand for what you believe in, then you might not deserve to be elected in the first place.

More recently, Senator Feingold, displaying a political soul, called for President Bush to be censored for authorizing the NSA to violate FISA. Democrats, acting on the advice of their strategists, ran away from the motion, and even went so far as to scold the Senator for failing to check with them before he made his motion. And yesterday, Democrats still acting on the same advice, voted to approve the nomination of General Hayden, the man who ran the NSA surveillance program, to head of the CIA.

To be frank, who is giving them such idiotic advice? To see how ridiculous this strategy of inaction is, watch this Daily Show clip, where they lampoon the DNC's decision not to let Paul Hackett run for Senator in Ohio despite his popularity. That video perfectly epitomizes the DNC's approach to politics, especially the last line describing the party as "People who don't know what they're doing and are scared shitless to make strong choices."

You can't just say you're for something, and then act as if you're not, and expect to be taken seriously, but it happens all the time. John McCain says he's against torture, but a bill - with his name on it - passes that would allow torture and he approves of it. Democrats say that Republicans have brought a system of corruption to Washington, but they fail to put serious ethic reforms on the table, and when one of their own (William Jefferson) is caught with a 100,000 illicit dollars in his freezer they fail to take to take a strong stand against him (with notable exceptions like Nanci Pelosi.)

Most of what I have said has been directed at the Democrats, but the same goes for the Republican party, if not more so. Republicans like Arlen Specter, Lindsay Graham, Olypia Snowe, etc. say that they are deeply troubled by the President's warrantless surveillance program, but when it comes time to take action on it, they roll over and defend the administration. I have a difficult time believing that there are no Republicans that find what is currently being done in the name of the Republican party to be troubling. In fact, I know that there are (Paul Craig Roberts and Bob Barr, for example) but there are virtually none in Congress who will take a stand against this administration.

Anyone who feels troubled by what is going on, who believes in something but does not have the courage to speak and act on their convictions, has no political soul. And a person without a political soul does not deserve our respect, much less our vote.

1 comment:

KevinHayden said...

That was one powerful testimonial by Englin, and your added words were as strong.

Thank you, for providing both.