Column No. 100 By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH APRIL 6, 2006
As I noted last week, my second column for The Political Junkies appeared on March 4, 2004. The topic was the so-called “Gay Marriage Amendment” (in reality the Homosexual Discrimination Amendment). It has become quite obvious that the Republican Religious Right (RRR) will be making much of this one in the current session of Congress. It is one of their two domestic wedge issues (the other being immigration of course --- Fox"News"Channel gave that strategy away very early in the year) leading into the 2006 Congressional campaign. This is the second of a two-part edited re-run of the original column.
IV. The Georgites have been attacking the whole concept of an independent judiciary since they took office. They have done this both directly and by appointing to the bench judges who do not believe in it, but rather believe that the judiciary should be subservient to the Executive Branch (as long as that branch is in the hands of the Right Wing of course.) (See my Schiavo Case columns, especially those of April 14 and 21,2004.).
When a reactionary Supreme Court gutted large parts of the New Deal back in the 1930s, using a specific interpretation of the vaguely written Interstate Commerce Clause, in opposition to the “will of the people,” the Right was all for that (and still very much is). Bush has made a point of linking his support of this amendment to the role of "a few activist judges." "Activist judge" in the Georgite vocabulary means "any judge who renders an opinion on the meaning of the Constitution that does not agree with ours."
V. The introduction of this proposed amendment also recognizes, as I said above, that unless they were to get full control of the Supreme Court, that that body reading the 14th, would eventually have to rule that gays are entitled to marriage, not just “civil union,” under the (civil) marriage laws of each and every state.
The original Constitution discriminated against one group of people, the African-American slaves (and did not recognize the existence of another, the Native Americans). Otherwise, it promoted rights, not denied them. It took a Civil War to eliminate that original written discrimination and then another century of struggle before the meaning of the 15th Amendment, the Original Voting and Civil Rights Act, was actually put into enforceable law. This new amendment would reintroduce into the Constitution formal discrimination against one group of people, based on who they are, what their nature is, as people, not anything they might have done that violates laws other than those on the books that already discriminate against homosexuals.
VI. While many Republicans are racists, many are not.
The Party does have its Southern Strategy that is based in racism. However, that force is gradually losing its political utility, especially as the nation becomes darker skinned and more multi-cultural. Since the time of the Great Depression and the New Deal, and now especially that the Cold War is nothing but a memory, the Right has relied on racism as its base for gaining and maintaining political power. With the political utility of racism possibly diminishing for the short term, it is clear that certain Right-wing forward planners have recognized the need to target a new group against which discrimination could be rallied for political purposes. Who better for their purposes than the homosexuals?
In 1995 none other than Newt Gingrich said, when addressing the issue of AIDS (The Freedom Writer, “Inside Glen Eyrie Castle,” August, 1994, p. 1): “AIDS is a real crisis. It is something you ought to be paying attention to, to study. AIDS will do more to direct America (sic) back to the cost of violating traditional values, and to make America (sic) aware of the danger of certain behavior than anything we’ve ever seen. For us, it’s a great rallying cry (emphasis added).”
VII. The demolition of the Wall of Separation between Church and State
One could see a reactionary, Georgite Supreme Court using this amendment and its "original intent" as they would interpret it, to justify such laws under the Constitution. They could do this simply because the Constitution would now (literally) discriminate against a particular group of people, based on who they are, using a certain set of religious criteria. (Just see the Dred Scott decision, the only one that the strict constructionist Chief Justice Roger Taney felt he could make under the Constitution as then written.) Since the basis of the definition of marriage the amendment uses is religious, not civil, by putting it into the Constitution, Jefferson’s "Wall of Separation" would essentially be demolished. Again, by its mere introduction of the amendment the Republican Religious Right has signaled the beginning of its formal assault on that Wall.
VIII. Bush said that the definition of "marriage" is based on its ''cultural religious and natural'' roots.
Not that we could fairly expect this dumb and ignorant man to know any better, but it is of course simply not true that the definition of marriage is historically immutable. In the 19th century, it meant that the woman became the property of the man and that her property did too. In the Middle Ages there was "droit de seigneur," the right of the feudal lord to have the first night with any woman any of his male serfs married. Perhaps they are thinking about re-establishing that, the qualification for "seigneur" status to be something like a minimum of $100,000.00 per year to the Georgite campaign fund.
IX. I don't want to go too far out here, but this could be the first step on the road to outlawing homosexuality.
The Republican Religious Right holds that being a homosexual is a matter of choice. Focus on the Family’s Jim Dobson rails away on that one incessantly. As Trent Lott once told us when he was Republican Majority Leader and the third leading Republican politician the country, it is after all a sin (and that because the Bible, at least the particular translation that Lott reads, says so. In that regard, one must ask if God spoke English, a language not around when he supposedly laid down the “inerrant” text of his thought. Much more importantly, one must ask why should those of us who do not believe that the Bible is “the word of God” and even if it were, why should it govern the behavior of those of us who do not think that its dictates and dictums should be given the force of legal authority over any person other than those individuals who want to follow them.)
In Nazi Germany, before the Yellow Star came into wide usage following the passage in 1935 of the Nuremberg Laws that put discrimination against Jews into the German legal code, known homosexuals (other than those in the upper reaches of the Nazi Party such as Ernst Roehm, Commander of the SA until his murder by Hitler for political, not sexual discrimination, reasons, on The Night of the Long Knives, June 30, 1934) were required to wear a Pink Triangle. Only then did the Nuremberg Laws come.
I believe that this battle must be fought on these grounds, not only on fairness or state rights. This amendment has meaning for everyone, because if the homosexuals are first, who could then be next to have the rights that they presently have under the explicit elements of the Bill of Rights, under the 9th, and under the 14th eliminated? Why, for example, could the next step not be an amendment defining marriage solely as a religious institution and perhaps specifying which religion(s)? Further, if it were first the gays in Germany, then the Jews, if the gays were to be the first to be Constitutionally discriminated against, I just wonder who would be next.
Let us not limit the argument simply to the rights of homosexual American citizens, as American citizens (which argument should of course be used as well). Let us remember the words of Pastor Niemoller in Germany which went something like: “In Germany they first came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me --- and by that time no one was left to speak up for me.”
In 1820, an Act of Congress called the Missouri Compromise permitted the expansion of the institution of slavery beyond its original boundaries. Thomas Jefferson referred to that Act as a “Firebell in the Night,” warning of future bloody conflict over the institution of slavery. For our time, the mere introduction of this amendment, a rallying cry for the Republican Religious Right with enormous implications for the nature of our society, with all of its grave potential consequences for the future of Constitutional democracy in the United States, supported as it is by the present President of the United States, present as it is in the 2004 National Platform of his Party, should be regarded as well as a “Firebell in the Night.”
Author’s Note: Well after I prepared this revisit to the March, 2004 column, back in Dec., 2005, the following item appeared on CNN news: “From Ed Henry, Feb. 13, 2006. WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Monday he plans a vote in early June on a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, a move likely to fail but sure to spark a fiery election-year debate. Frist, a Tennessee Republican, told CNN he's planning the vote for the week of June 5 because he wants to deal with the issue "as early as possible" before the Senate calendar fills up in a busy election year. Frist said he doesn't know how many votes the ban will receive, but Republican and Democratic aides privately acknowledged the vote will probably fall far short of the 67-vote supermajority needed to advance a constitutional amendment.”