Last week I witnessed a spectacle that’s sadly all too common today: a battle between the left and the right — two extremes, equally polarized and equally out of touch with mainstream political thought and, it seems, rational thinking. The debate I witnessed wasn’t on CNN, and it didn’t feature the political pundits who thrive on the polarization our society seems to crave, but was instead between students gathered for a post-class lunch. The topic: same-sex marriages (always a good one to stir up a bit of controversy).
To be sure, we had the modern political spectrum represented. There was someone there to argue vociferously against the possibility of ever allowing same-sex marriages and pushed for a constitutional amendment to make sure that his dream could stay a reality for at least the next 50 years. There were also those people who argued that we needed action now (!), that — without further ado — the courts should step in and declare same-sex marriages legal and thus end years of discrimination against homosexuals. Both sides argued despite the fact that victory over the other party was virtually impossible from the start; both sides talked but neither side listened.
And so goes the national debate as well.
Die-hard conservatives are upset that President Bush wasn’t more forthright in his State of the Union address in his denunciation of same-sex marriages. They wanted a clear message of support from the President for a constitutional amendment to preserve the “sanctity” of marriage by forever declaring the act void if not between a man and a woman. Congressional bills, like the Defense of Marriage Act Clinton signed into law, are not enough for these activists: they want more. The same political movement that once used the judiciary to stall the cessation of slavery and enfranchisement of blacks as well as invalidate key aspects of the New Deal Legislation is now leery of this, the legitimate third branch of our government.
Sensing the possibility of a liberal court in Massachusetts delivering the final blow to their plans of keeping marriage “sacred,” they see nothing wrong with legislating through the Constitution. This tactic has been tried in the past, and with little success. What I am referring to, of course, is the 18th Amendment, which prohibited alcohol sales, notable today because the 22nd Amendment repealed the 18th. It seems longevity of your beliefs isn’t guaranteed by making law via the constitution, and it hardly seems the purpose the founding fathers intended the amendment process to be used for. What’s worse, really? Making new laws by judicial fiat, or forcing your views on future generations simply because you have the ability to quickly add to the Constitution?
The answer, of course, is that they’re both equally bad. But those fighting hardest against those die-hard conservatives, the die-hard liberals, use the same anti-populist logic. Rather than letting society keep drifting toward greater acceptance of same-sex marriage, as doubtless anyone would argue it is, they push instead for immediate action. By doing this, they risk alienating potential supporters by pushing an agenda on a public not yet willing to accept the court’s decision. As witnessed by the reaction to the Massachusetts Supreme Court’s decision, what seem like judicial victories too often result in creating a public ripe for the picking by fortified opposition groups, whose strength only buoys with every minor “victory.” In this case, right-wing pundits and conservative political groups have begun to advocate aggressively for the constitutional amendment, a relatively new idea, by making an all-out attempt to woo moderate voters
To be sure, waiting is a hard thing to do, but sometimes it’s the only option that ensures the best possible outcome. Let the public make up its own mind about same-sex marriages and then let the public act on its decisions through its direct voice in the government, Congress.
Liberals, it seems as if it won’t be long until there will be a sizeable majority of the public willing to back same-sex marriages, which would thus confer legitimacy on your movement. Conservatives, you’ve got your work cut out for you, but constructive debate about the issue seems more likely to garner support than threats of employing heavy-handed tactics to secure your ends.
Let’s put aside all the polarized rhetoric and really discuss the issue, but, until then, can we all at least agree to ignore the Massachusetts Supreme Court and leave the Constitution alone? When the country is ready to address this issue, the proper outlet would be through Congress — only then will the voice of the people be heard.