President Bush’s support among American voters is abysmal. He’s a sinking ship and he seems to be taking the Republican Party down with him.
So in an effort to buoy up support by his core constituents, the conservative religious right, he lobbied hard for the passage of a constitutional amendment which would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, thus banning the recognition of same-sex marriage by all states.
He, and his conservative backers in the Senate, knew there was no hope that the proposed amendment would garner enough votes for passage. It was purely a political ploy to show his core constituency that he hasn’t forgotten about them. The fear is that by losing those constituents, Republicans will lose control of one or both houses of Congress after this fall’s election.
Earlier last week, Republicans in the Senate were heartened by the prospects that several more senators would vote to support the proposed amendment. Although they would still fall short of the 67 votes they needed for passage, Republicans saw the increased support as a good sign that they could still use this hot-button issue at election time.
Unfortunately for them, the Senate soundly rejected even debating the issue further. They came up 11 votes shy of having enough support to even keep the debate going. It was another resounding defeat for Bush and his theocracy-bent supporters.
Changing the Constitution by amending it is a monumental undertaking. The Founding Fathers designed the Constitution to be a fluid document, which would change over time to more closely match latter-day societal norms. But its fluidity was also designed to be very viscous.
The framers guarded against a document that could be changed in a heartbeat to mollify the whims of an overly zealous transient majority. The Constitution was not meant to be flexible enough to accommodate supporters of the political issue de jour.
Additionally, almost every time the Constitution has been amended to alter the rights of Americans, it has increased those rights. The lone exception was the Nineteenth Amendment, which prohibited the sale of alcoholic beverages. And it wasn’t very long before that amendment was repealed.
Other amendments have granted more freedoms to Americans, including the first 10 amendments, the Bill of Rights. Other amendments granted blacks and women the right to vote, applied federally guaranteed rights to the states, and granted those who are 18 and over the right to vote.
Passage of an amendment to ban gay marriage would have been the first time in nearly a century that an amendment to restrict certain freedoms would have been passed.
But the proposal didn’t even make it over the first hurdle. To become part of the Constitution, a proposed amendment must be passed by two-thirds of both houses of Congress and then by three-fourths of the states.
Of course, failing to pass a constitutional amendment restricting same-sex marriage doesn’t mean the issue is dead. Most states already have laws or amendments of their own that define marriage as being between a man and a woman.
Massachusetts last year passed a law making same-sex marriage legal. That law was the direct result of a court ruling that overturned the state’s previous law which defined gay cohabitation as a civil union.
Polls show that a majority of Americans oppose giving marital rights to same-sex couples. But the same polls also show that the majority oppose amending the Constitution to ban gay marriage.
Most sociologists define marriage as being a legal union between two consenting adult partners. I prefer to define it as a legal bond between a man and a woman. I believe tradition and history should be given due consideration in defining what marriage is.
There are other ways that same-sex couples can get their legal rights besides marriage. But whatever we, as a nation, finally decide about the definition of marriage, a constitutional amendment is not the best way to solve the debate.