Columns » Bob McCord

Second-class citizens

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I never thought that a president of the United States would propose an amendment to the Constitution to make any group of Americans second-class citizens by preventing homosexuals from marrying each other. But President Bush has done exactly that, and 116 members of the House of Representatives (including Rep. John Boozman, Arkansas' only Republican member of Congress) are sponsoring the proposed amendment. Believe it or not, 38 states (including Arkansas) still have ancient laws preventing the marriage of people of the same sex. One of them is Massachusetts, but its Supreme Court (made up largely of Republican judges) has recently ruled that such a law was unconstitutional. Now, people in other states opposed to same-sex marriages know that it will take years for the amendment to become law and are fearful that in the meantime the U.S. Supreme Court might approve these marriages, overcoming all state laws. Besides, there's the possibility the president's amendment might not be approved. Therefore, last week something called the Arkansas Marriage Amendment Committee produced a proposed amendment to the Arkansas Constitution that would outlaw gay marriages. This committee, which is enthusiastically supported by Gov. Mike Huckabee, an ex-Baptist preacher, will attempt to collect 80,570 signatures by July 2 in order to get the amendment on the ballot for the general election in November. A Gallup Poll of 1,005 adults reveals that 50 percent of Americans would vote for the president's proposed amendment, but 45 percent of the people were opposed to it. So there is a chance that the amendment might not pass. Other polls show that most adults under 35 see nothing wrong with same-sex weddings, and so the columnists and editorial writers are saying that it's only the old folks who are against it. I'm not sure that's right. I'm old and so are most of my friends, and I think we become more tolerant of the differences in people as we grow older, especially those of us who live in the South, where slavery was tolerated and legal until 1865. Most Arkansans wince when reminded that in 1957 it required the strength of the soldiers of the Army's 101st Airborne Division to allow black kids to go safely into all-white schools when desegregation became the law of the land. Is anyone proud of the fact that until 1967, more than half of the states put people in jail who had sex with a person of another race? Then there's the Southern poll tax, which kept black people from voting until the Supreme Court outlawed it in 1964. What about the 60,000 retarded and infirm Americans who were sterilized against their will after Supreme Court Judge Oliver William Holmes ruled that "three generations of imbeciles are enough"? But it wasn't just in the South. In 1965 the Supreme Court abolished a law in Connecticut that made it illegal for married couples to use contraceptive devices. There have been only 27 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and the difficulty of changing it is what has kept most Americans truly free. The last attack on our personal lives by a constitutional amendment was Prohibition in 1919. It was a disaster and was quickly repealed. Historians say that Prohibition was what created organized crime in this country. Fifty years ago President Dwight Eisenhower, who was in his 70s, said, "The final battle against intolerance is to be fought not in the chambers of any legislature but in the hearts of men." But politicians now are stirring millions of evangelical churchgoers to vote for them in return for keeping homosexuals as second-class citizens. Dr. Richard Laird, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Commission, told the New York Times, "I have not seen any issue that mobilized my constituency like same -sex marriage, not even the abortion issue." Dr. Laird and other evangelicals suggest that same-sex marriages undermine normal marriage, but they are seldom able to say why. Nathaniel Frank, a history professor at New School University in New York, says, "Marriage is a social institution that gays deserve to join like everyone else." Some say that marriage is just for having children, but Frank points out that it also usually creates productive lives, a stable home and rules of conduct that strengthen obligations to a spouse. "And why should marriage be allowed for divorced, infertile or impotent people but not for homosexuals?" he asks. The Netherlands, Belgium, Ontario and British Columbia in Canada allow same-sex marriage. Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, France and Portugal have civil union laws for gays who want to live together, allowing them rights to Social Security benefits, automatic inheritance, family and medical leaves, etc. Vermont has had a civil union law for two years, and the report is that it works well. And now many gays are saying that they would be satisfied if all states would adopt civil union laws, and many politicians, national and local, are promoting it. Civil union is a good compromise -- a good argument to use against President Bush, who obviously thinks his tough attack against gays will re-elect him come November. But now here's a sudden and unexpected reason to think that Arkansans maybe won't vote to oppress gays who love each other and want to live together. Tuesday night the Pulaski County Quorum Court refused to endorse the proposed amendment that would make same-sex marriages illegal.

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