Bush Talks Around Same-Sex Marriage

Rebecca D. O’brien

George W. Bush thinks the world of marriage. In last Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, he described it as “one of the most fundamental, enduring institutions of our civilization.” Administration officials are preparing to launch a $1.5 billion initiative aimed at promoting healthy marriages through workshops teaching marriage skills, mentoring programs and even advertising campaigns to publicize the value of marriage. In fact, our president feels so strongly about marriage that he wants to make sure millions of gay and lesbian Americans never get a chance to opt in.

Tuesday’s address included Bush’s strongest statement yet expressing his opposition to same-sex marriage. If rulings like last fall’s landmark Goodridge v. Massachusetts Department of Public Health decision—in which the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court declared in-state bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional—are allowed to stand, Bush warned, “the only alternative left to the people would be the constitutional process.” While the president did not go so far as to endorse the proposed federal constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage, he indicated that he saw such a move as a reasonable and even inevitable course of action. This may be the most significant presidential pronouncement on the subject of gay rights since Bill Clinton rolled out “don’t ask, don’t tell” in 1993. And yet President Bush called for a nationwide doctrine of discrimination without even using the words “gay” or “lesbian” in his address.

Bush tries to avoid these words because the cheery meme of compassionate conservatism depends on affirmative language—speeches about what marriage should be rather than what it shouldn’t. Imagine Bush posing for a photo-op with Mary Cheney, only to have her turn to him in front of the cameras and ask if he thinks that she and her longtime partner should be able to marry. Such a confrontation would surely leave Bush stammering and red-faced, because it’s far easier for him to say a dehumanized “no” to gay America than a face-to-face “no” to one gay American. It’s easier to describe the Defense of Marriage Act as one more way to strengthen marriages, as if two men tying the knot in Boston somehow weakens the conjugal bonds of a straight couple in Dallas. And it will be easier to call a new doctrine of discrimination the Federal Marriage Amendment, though the Historically Unprecedented Hijacking of the Constitution to Single Out a Group of American Citizens and Explicitly Deny Them Certain Rights Amendment might be more apt. (Perhaps the perennially forthright Attorney General John Ashcroft initially favored the latter title, but was told by the Justice Department that the acronym would be too unwieldy.)

The sop that Bush tried to throw gays and lesbians in his State of the Union Address may be most insulting of all. The same moral tradition that excludes us from marriage, Bush explained, “also teaches that each individual has dignity and value in God’s sight.” Even though our community would profane the sanctity of marriage, apparently we can still hold our heads high because we have dignity and value. Here’s a news flash, Mr. President: Treating us with dignity and value would mean using the words “gay” and “lesbian” in your State of the Union Address. If you are bent on disenfranchising us, then the least you can do is to speak our names out loud as you make us into second-class citizens.

Tell us, Mr. President, what do people of dignity and value deserve in this great nation that you have the privilege of leading? The right to visit a loved one in intensive care? The right to vouch for a loved one’s green card? The right to jointly adopt children in the eyes of the law? Or how about the right to have our state or commonwealth bear witness to our love for each other, instead of pathologizing it and sweeping it under the rug? We have listened to your vague ideas about dignity and value, and, frankly, we have found them sorely wanting.

Marcel A.Q. LaFlamme ’04 is a folklore and mythology concentrator in Mather House. Adam P. Schneider ’07, a Crimson editor, lives in Grays Hall. They are the former and current public relations chairs, respectively, of the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Supporters Alliance.