The Federal Marriage Amendment ((FMA) has a nice name and sounds like something that just about anybody should support. However, its intention is not to guarantee loving couples the right to make a lifelong commitment in holy or civil matrimony. Its purpose is to single out a specific segment of our society and deny them that right. Senator Wayne Allard deceptively worded it so that it does not say that, only to mean that. It states: “Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman.” The U. S. Senate recently voted, at least temporarily, not to advance this amendment. This was the wise response to an amendment that should never have been proposed in the first place.
The most frequent opposition for same-sex marriages has been for religious reasons. The condemning text seems to be from Leviticus 18:22 – “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” Unless one is comfortable with only selective reading, one should be careful reading and adhering to everything in Leviticus. It is an interesting and entertaining book. Did you know that according to Leviticus 11:10 that it is an abomination to eat shellfish? It states, “And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you.” I suspect that the eclectic committee that James I put together to compose his version of the Bible had a good time writing Leviticus. They probably did it at some pub while dining on shrimp, mussels, and oysters. So, is that passage from Leviticus really worth turning our form of government into a theocracy?
Do we really want the United States to be a theocracy? Which religion are we going to go with? Christianity? Are there no Jews, Muslims, Hindi, Buddhists, atheists, et.al. in this country? Which form of Christianity? We have Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Catholics, and multitudes of others. I am reminded of the story told by Mark Twain in which he claimed to have put a representative of various religious faiths in a cage and, when he returned, he did not find a single specimen left alive. Once we start changing the U.S. Constitution for religious reasons, where will it all end? Ironically, the two senators from Arkansas, Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, each voted against FMA, but not to protect the nation from becoming an intolerant theocracy, but by claiming that the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act on the national level was sufficient. Each of them said they would vote for the anti-gay marriage state amendment for religious reasons. Neither senator has any problem turning the Arkansas Constitution into a theocratic document.
Do we really want the United States to be accused of certifiable hypocrisy? We recently overthrew the Taliban from control of Afghanistan. We denounced its strict Islamic fundamentalist theocratic government and have attempted to prevent that type of repression from reoccurring. We have attempted to prevent any one Islamic sect from dominating the former secular state of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. If either of these two new governments begin to persecute or restrict individuals for religious reasons – remember how women were treated in those countries- how can the United States speak up for human rights if we amend our constitution to discriminate against homosexuals for religious reasons.
The obtaining of civil rights by various groups has been the one continuous thread that has connected the history of the United States. Blacks, women, gays and lesbians, workers, and the handicapped are all examples of those who have wanted to share in the rights of all American citizens. Ironically, some Black ministers have actually supported the FMA and have denied that marriage is a civil right for gays and lesbians. Again by subscribing to that selected passage from Leviticus, they are doing this for religious reasons. Did you know that Leviticus 25:44 states that individuals can have male and female slaves provided they come from neighboring nations: “Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids.” You notice that no Black minister is supporting that passage, nor is anyone else unless it is by some white supremist groups. Leviticus is a fun read, and I highly recommend it for that reason – not for the reason of changing the U.S. Constitution.
It is hard to believe that any one of our first four Presidents would be anything but dismayed over the proposal of this amendment. George Washington, even though he never spoke on a single issue at the Constitutional Convention, was long a supporter of religious freedom and opposed its being used for bigotry and intolerance. John Adams, a devout Christian who was the author of the Massachusetts Constitution, attempted to amend his original document to provide for religious freedom. He was particularly concerned over the discrimination against Jews. When his proposal was defeated, he lamented that Christians could sometimes be so intolerant. What would he think today? Thomas Jefferson wrote in his Declaration of Independence about those inalienable rights that we are all entitled to: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. What part of this do the supporters of the FMA not understand? James Madison, the father of the Constitution, was also the author of the Bill of Rights. He did not write “except for gays and lesbians” in any one of them. How happy would Madison be if we decided to add an exception to his First Amendment ( “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion…”)? Do not forget that the U.S. Constitution itself begins with “We the People,” not “Some of the People.”
Because of McCarthyism, the Federal Marriage Amendment is a very hard proposal for any politician or voter to muster the courage to oppose. Senators and representatives go on record in a roll-call vote, so how they vote on an issue is public knowledge. Citizens registered to vote have a secret ballot; but we all know that they talk to their friends, neighbors, and colleagues about how they vote. McCarthyism is the use of the big lie technique to attribute guilt by association. Arkansas’ Senators Lincoln and Pryor have already been accused of being pro-gay as a result of their courageous vote against this misguided amendment. We should have expected no less from them: back in the early 1950’s, Arkansas’ Senators Fulbright and McClellan risked being accused of being pro-communist by opposing the sinister Joe McCarthy before it was popular to do so. I have seen no indication either Lincoln or Pryor has been advocating any so-called gay agenda, but I certainly hope they will continue to oppose any amendment that is intended to discriminate against any segment of our society. Regular voters, on the other hand, who vote against the FMA or speak out against it will be accused either of being gay or pro-gay. Hopefully, all voters will do whatever they can to prevent any bill that discriminates against anyone, no matter how unpopular they may be, from becoming a part of “the supreme law of the land.” Do not forget the warning issued by Pastor Martin Niemoeller who was a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps:
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 wasn’t a Catholic.
Then they came for me – and by that time no one was left to speak up.
Remember that any time that a law is passed that takes rights away from a people or that prevents a people from sharing in the same rights as other citizens that fellow Hitler is still lurking somewhere, and he is smiling.
by David Offutt
A version of this essay was published August 5, 2004,
in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.