Constitutional Discrimination

President Bush’s official announcement late last month to support the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would rewrite the Constitution to prevent same-sex marriage, came as no surprise. In fact, it is almost humorous that CNN would send out a breaking news update to alert its subscribers of this fact. Bush has danced around the issue of same-sex marriage for months, attempting to allow conservative analysts the time to calculate his political strategy. His State of the Union address this year offered a hint at what was to come, but shied away from any explicit statements.

In the end, it took Karl Rove a little less than a month to prepare his puppet for an announcement that affirmed support for one of the most egregious acts of proposed legislation of this new century.

As usual, Bush’s rhetoric in the Feb. 24 speech did not go far beyond reiterating empty allusions to his narrow perception of the United States’ “cultural, religious and natural roots.” By this he refers to the cultural hegemony of an Anglo-Saxon, Protestant conservatism. Allowing same-sex couples the right to enter into civil marriage in the United States does not, however, impinge in any way on the cultural or religious freedoms that Bush claims to protect. Instead, it affords bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgender (BGLT) people a legal status that is granted unconditionally to heterosexual couples upon request.

In many ways, the Federal Marriage Amendment launches us back to 1912, when Rep. Seaborn Roddenberry, D-Ga., introduced an amendment to ban interracial marriage. In his speech before Congress, Roddenberry said, “Intermarriage between whites and blacks is repulsive and averse to every sentiment of pure American spirit...It is destructive of moral supremacy, and ultimately this slavery to black beasts will bring this nation to a fatal conflict.” The same hateful rhetoric that Roddenberry espoused more than 90 years ago can now be seen flowing from the mouths of the religious right about same-sex marriage. But attitudes are changing, and it will not be long before Bush’s comments are seen by the general populace to be as despicable as Roddenberry’s.

Bush asks his fellow Americans to “conduct this difficult debate in a manner worthy of our country, without bitterness or anger.” President Bush, the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Supporters Alliance (BGLTSA) is angry, and we have every right to be bitter. Bush has trampled on the rights of BGLT people for far too long, and this time he has gone too far. He may be able to silence Mary Cheney, but he certainly cannot quiet queer America.

Rallies around the country, from Boston to San Francisco, are raising the consciousness of a nation. We are not willing to accept the illogical and inane arguments of the religious right. The website of the Alliance for Marriage, a coalition formed to encourage “more children raised in a home with a mother and a father,” cites an article asserting that “‘gay marriage’ devalues women.” The article states emphatically that women (or men) would be rendered superfluous in a world of same-sex marriages—but it refuses to show how two men or women choosing to enter the institution of marriage will degrade the institution of marriage for heterosexuals. Matt Daniels, president of the Alliance for Marriage, asserts that “marriage is the key to reducing the high levels of youth crime and child poverty.” Even if we believe this claim, though, it’s still hard to see how Daniels can get away with scapegoating the BGLT population instead of addressing the divorce and broken homes that are the endpoint for so many heterosexual marriages. Illogical arguments like this only serve to incite hatred and violence against BGLT people.

The United States Constitution is not a place for zealots and bigots to enshrine discrimination, especially when an ABC News/Washington Post poll reported that 48 percent of respondents said that the states should decide on the issue of same-sex marriage, whereas only 43 percent actually supported the proposed amendment. With or without widespread support, though, this amendment is a miscarriage of justice that would create a constitutionally-delineated second-class status for the BGLT population.

The text of the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment does not stop at defining marriage as a “union of a man and a woman”—it goes on to strip some BGLT people of the domestic partnership benefits that they have fought valiantly to gain over the past decades. Supporters of the amendment have claimed that it would continue to allow non-marriage civil unions, but the proposed amendment unambiguously states, “Neither this Constitution or the constitution of any State, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.” The “legal incidents” of marriage that are offered by many states, counties, cities and employers are vital to the livelihoods of BGLT people. Retracting these rights would not only disallow the ability of BGLT people to take advantage of tax benefits and access to estates, but it would prohibit them as well from visiting their loved ones in hospitals as anything more than a friend.

As the debate about the Federal Marriage Amendment grows near, there is an increased need for activism. Living in Cambridge, Harvard students have the incredible opportunity to be at the forefront of this battle for equality. Despite the unlikelihood of the amendment gaining the two-thirds support in both houses of Congress and the support of constitutional conventions in 38 states that it needs to become law, it is imperative that we support efforts to end discrimination against the BGLT population. Write letters to your state senators encouraging them to join the fight or thanking them for their support. And join the BGLTSA on March 11 at noon at the Massachusetts State House to oppose parallel efforts to write in discrimination to the Massachusetts state constitution. Let us hope the next time there is a CNN breaking news update, it reads, “Federal Marriage Amendment Fails in Congress.”

Adam P. Schneider ’07, a Crimson editor, lives in Grays Hall. He is the public relations chair of the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Supporters.