The Arkansas Marriage Amendment is as bad an idea as the Federal Marriage Amendment. We should not write discrimination into our state’s constitution, nor should we make our state a theocracy. This amendment is particularly reprehensible because it has been cleverly written to prevent civil unions without specifically saying so. Therefore, Arkansans who would like to narrowly define marriage as being only between one man and one woman but who are also open to compromise may be deceived into voting for it. Arkansas has come such a long way since the civil rights crisis in 1957 that it seems a shame for us to fall so far and so fast for no real reason.
I would certainly hate to see Arkansas earn a website like the one that Virginia has received! Voters in Virginia passed an anti-gay marriage amendment equally intolerant as the one proposed here, and the result has been VirginiaIsForHaters.Com, an attempt to place an economic boycott on the state. Even though a similar boycott cost a state like Colorado millions of dollars before an anti-gay amendment was removed from its constitution, Arkansas may be more fortunate. However, we do have excellent facilities for conventions (Little Rock, Hot Springs, some of our state parks, and more) and have wonderful opportunities for tourism (Buffalo National River, Hot Springs National Park, hunting and fishing, the Clinton Presidential Library, excellent state parks and campgrounds, and more). All of them could be hurt.
Arkansans are also hoping to pass another amendment intended to lure large industries here, but what industries would come here knowing we might be boycotted because of intolerance? No company wants to alienate any potential customers. Also, of the Fortune 500, sixty-three percent have included sexual orientation in their anti-discrimination policies. This practice is only going to increase: many companies want to be able to recruit and keep talented employees regardless of their sexual orientation. Companies that presently offer domestic partnership benefits will be under great pressure to avoid moving to Arkansas.
If we discriminate against gays and lesbians in our constitution, Arkansans won’t even be able to deliver the “Pledge of Allegiance” with a straight face or without being laughed at. Religious political extremists may have no problem with deciding who they feel should be singled out and deprived of certain rights, but the “Pledge of Allegiance” should be something that all of our citizens can say sincerely and without hesitation. How will we be able to speak those final seven words: “…indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”? Everyone will know that it is officially no longer true in Arkansas. Being blatantly hypocritical should not be an option.
The prevention of same-sex marriage seems to be counterproductive. It denies reality and defeats what we should be working to accomplish. One of the frequent criticisms of gay behavior has been that gays are promiscuous. You know, they have multiple sex partners and consequently spread the HIV virus. Actually, by practicing safe-sex techniques, homosexuals have reduced their numbers of new infections, whereas the heterosexual population’s has been increasing. But if having multiple sex partners is not good, then shouldn’t we be encouraging them to settle down and get married?
Many gay couples have been married for all practical purposes for years. They just have not had the official ceremonies and the legal recognitions. Actor Richard Chamberlain has been with his partner for something like twenty-six years. So have writer Gore Vidal and his longtime companion. George Takei, Mr. Sulu of Star Trek fame, is another famous example.
With the high divorce rate of heterosexuals, the ever-increasing numbers of single parent households, the great need for foster parents, and the large number of orphans needing to be adopted, it is somewhat refreshing that homosexual couples are actually interested in making their relationship official.
However, one might wonder why they would really want to. With marriage comes responsibility: shared income, shared possessions, and fidelity! What if one of them cheats on the other, and it all ends up in divorce court with all its legal ramifications? I would have to suspect that most same-sex couples would not take the risk even if they could legally do so. But if any homosexual couple is willing to take on that responsibility, then they must be really sincere about it. Not only should they be given the chance, but also shouldn’t we be encouraging them to do so?
A major problem with the proposal of this amendment is the probable motive of many of the politicians who are supporting it. They are playing to the fears and emotions of their constituents to get their votes. It is the very successful, but cynical, tactic of telling the voters, “I hate who you hate, so vote for me!” Of course, they never say it that way, but their meaning is clear and is understood. Under the guise of protecting marriage, these politicians and religious political extremists are hoping to get a large anti-gay voter turnout on Election Day.
Marriage does not need protecting. It is secure now, even with a 50% divorce rate, and it is not going to go away even if homosexuals can engage in it. These politicians know this. They know that most people have been taught to hate homosexuals all of their lives, and they are going to use that traditional homophobia to either get elected or re-elected. They know that some voters can be persuaded to ignore all other concerns and cast their ballots based on one or two emotional issues.
Being obviously racist is no longer acceptable, but being openly anti-gay is not yet taboo. Sadly, by appealing to some voters’ worst instincts, being anti-gay can be politically advantageous.
by David Offutt
A version of this essay was published October 7, 2004,
in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.