Their View: Argument is more about scapegoats than rights
Something petty - a shouting match in the Senate Judiciary Committee last week - nevertheless echoes strongly with a warning for any thoughtful American concerned about the temper of the times. The spat occurred as the committee considered a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
In part, the clash between Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the committee chairman, and Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., was about a change in venue for the committee meeting. But the overarching context was the Democratic belief - well-founded, as it happens - that this amendment is all about currying political favor with the Republicans' right-wing base and in the process painting Democrats as the defenders of gay marriage.
This worked a treat for those supporting President Bush in the 2004 presidential election, when 11 states had initiatives on gay marriage or civil unions to inflame the voters' prejudices at the polls.
The scene in the Judiciary Committee was childish and undignified, perhaps as befitting the nonsense before it. After Feingold declared his opposition to the amendment and his intention to walk out, Specter said: “I don't need to be lectured by you. You are no more a protector of the Constitution than am I.” He bid the Democrat “good riddance.”
Actually, Feingold has a better claim to be a protector of the Constitution; he doesn't want to see it larded up with a piece of bigotry in which a majority motivated by religious belief seeks to deprive a small minority of the benefits of matrimony. Ironically, Specter is “totally opposed” to the bill, but thinks it should go to a vote. And it will - probably in the week of June 5 - as the result of the committee's 10-8 party-line vote.
As a practical matter, the amendment is not needed. A majority of conservative justices on the U.S. Supreme Court can be expected to support the existing federal Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 so that states do not have to recognize any same-sex marriages granted elsewhere. Indeed, if protecting the sanctity of marriage was the real goal, the amendment would ban divorce, or at least ban divorced people from marrying again. Of course, we don't propose that ourselves, but the backers of the gay marriage amendment would do so if they were consistent.
But consistency and logic are not the point. The political power of the amendment resides in its bullying and hypocrisy. This is about selecting convenient scapegoats and feeling righteous as the administration pursues a sort of anti-Gospel in which social programs are cut and policies are pushed to favor the rich over the poor.
Sadly, any shouting matches - as in the Senate Judiciary Committee - are to be expected because promoting rancor and division are the real point. We can only hope that wiser heads will prevail in Congress as this amendment proceeds.
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette