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April 14, 2005

Playing Politics with Equal Rights

Tony Coppola

      In another setback for gay rights, 70 percent of the Kansas electorate approved an amendment to its State Constitution that will ban gay marriage. Unfortunately, not only does it ban gay marriage, but it bans domestic partnership benefits for both homosexual and heterosexual couples, as well. Kansas is the seventeenth state to pass such a ban on gay marriage; eleven states passed similar bans last November.

      This comes in stark contrast to the ruling by a California court three weeks ago, which argued that a ban on gay marriage would be unconstitutional based on the California State Constitution. It was a decision similar to the one made by the Massachusetts Supreme Court that led to the legalization of gay marriage in Massachusetts. While Kansas is certainly more conservative than both Massachusetts and California, the California electorate actually had approved an amendment to ban gay marriage in 2000 and there is still a possibility that an amendment to the State Constitution could ban gay marriage (while keeping civil unions) in Massachusetts.

      Clearly, it must only be "activist judges" and fringe groups that are trying to push gay marriage on the United States. Their arguments and efforts were so severe and depraved that George W. Bush and the Republican Party were forced to consider putting an amendment into the U.S. Constitution that would ban gay marriage and maybe even domestic partnership benefits of any sort. In addition, the sanctioning of gay marriage by judges in Massachusetts, the Mayor of San Francisco, and certain officials in New York forced them to put eleven gay marriage bans on the ballots in eleven different states last November.

      However, maybe we should stop talking about "activist judges" and start talking about the dirty politics of the Republican Party. Most of the people who voted in Kansas last week, and in the eleven states that passed bans last November, are not all that concerned with gay marriage—it would not be at the top of their agendas. They might not be supportive of gay marriage and would not want to legalize it, but it is doubtful a priority for them.

      Rather, banning gay marriage is the priority of many Republican leaders—not because they are so concerned with gay marriage cheapening their own marriages, but because it allows them to mobilize certain groups of voters and distract the attention of these voters from the GOP's fiscal policies, which have led to the impoverishment of many supporters of the Republican Party. I have no doubt that John Kerry would be President had the Massachusetts Supreme Court not ruled in favor of gay marriage, leading other activists in San Francisco and New York to issue marriage licenses. It was the best thing that ever happened to George W. Bush. Without a gay marriage ban on the ballot in Ohio, he would not be President.

      My point is not to commiserate over the election; the point is that politicians who place these bans on ballots often times could care less about gay marriage. They only care about winning office. "Activist judges," on the other hand, interpret the Constitutions based on what the founders wrote and their own innate senses of justice. While judges do not always make the right decisions, their "activism" is much more respectable than the politicking of the Republican Party.

      It is true that most people in the United States are for civil unions and against gay marriage. Democracy, however, is not only about the will of the people; it is also about minority rights. The Republicans know that even in most blue states, like California, gay marriage bans will pass because people are unfamiliar with the issue. At one time, however, amendments to institute racial segregation, would have passed in most states as well. Let us also remember that an amendment to the Alabama State Constitution that would have eliminated segregationist language failed last November. The Republicans will continue to put gay marriage bans on the ballots in other states because it is in their political interest to do so.

      The Republican Party might divide the country, but it also caters to the votes of conservative Christians who might decide to stay home in the next election, especially if Bush fails to deliver a Supreme Court justice who will overturn Roe v. Wade. The main question then becomes what the Democratic Party can do about it.

      First of all, Democrats can support gay marriage, as most of them know in their collective heart of hearts is right. But it is not enough to support it; they must frame an argument that will resonate with and educate people. Accusing people who vote for gay marriage bans of bigotry will not lead to the legalization of gay marriage. The Democratic Party has tried for too long now to do what they believe to be politically expedient. Instead, Democrats should say what they believe, and if that puts them in the camp of "activist judges," so be it.

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