This originally appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on December 4, 2003.
The Constitution of the United States of America is one of the most brilliant documents humanity has ever produced. It allows for an orderly and open process of governance by the people; while balancing the majority’s authority with the protection of individual rights. Consequently, the prejudices of even a significant majority of our citizens are not sufficient to abridge the constitutional rights of individuals or marginalized groups.
In the early days of our nation, our interpretation the Constitution was not nearly so inclusive. Women and slaves were denied full participation in the process that created the laws which governed their lives. Yet part of the genius of the Constitution is its flexibility, and it was amended to provide greater protection and participation for all American citizens.
Increasingly our judiciary – whose job is to insure that the majority cannot capriciously make laws which unfairly impose its will on the minority – has recognized that gay and lesbian folks still have not received the full protection of the Constitution.
As part of that process, they have recognized that there is no compelling reason to keep adults of the same sex from marrying. Homosexual couples, like heterosexual couples can build marriages (in all but name) that last a lifetime; marriages that are stable and monogamous; marriages that exist in loving homes filled with laughter; and marriages that raise healthy children who become productive members of society.
Some groups, who feel inexplicably threatened by the committed relationships of same-sex couples, have created volumes of material attempting to claim that homosexual marriages are somehow qualitatively different from heterosexual marriages. They raise bogeymen of promiscuity, pedophilia, and domestic abuse. They can do so successfully because many in their constituency do not know enough (if any) same-sex couples to have a realistic opinion on the subject.
Of course, the propaganda from the far right fails to remind us of what we do know; people in heterosexual marriages engage in promiscuity, pedophilia, and domestic abuse at an alarming rate.
Our nation’s founders wanted our judges to be insulated from that kind of propaganda and the prejudices associated with it. To their credit, many members of the judiciary have seen through the transparent arguments of the far right. They recognize that healthy homosexual relationships demonstrate conclusively that there is nothing intrinsic to same-sex marriages that makes them a threat to society. Likewise, they recognize that the prevalence of unhealthy behaviors among people in opposite-sex relationships makes it clear that proponents of heterosexual marriage are not in a position to claim a moral high ground.
Which is why the proponents of the so-called “Defense” of Marriage Act should be ashamed of themselves. They are attempting to subvert the role of the Constitution by changing it from a document that protects individual rights to one that enforces the religious and social prejudices of a particular group. Whether that group is in the majority or the minority is irrelevant. What matters is that the right against which they hope to legislate poses no threat to our society.
The sex of the participants in a marriage is obviously not the determining factor in its health. If proponents of the new amendment really wanted to defend marriage; they would legislate against the unhealthy behaviors about which they claim to be concerned. Instead, they are attempting to restrict the freedoms of a minority group that wants nothing more than legal protection for their families. In so doing, the propagandists on the right are trying to subvert the Constitution by changing it from a barrier of protection to a wall of oppression.