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Amendment protects bigotry, not marriage

By George A. Ricker

In the November general election, residents of the state of Florida will be asked to vote on an amendment to the state constitution that is billed as the “Florida Marriage Protection Amendment.” The amendment will be on the ballot by virtue of its having acquired more than the necessary 611,009 signatures of registered voters. If 60 percent of those voting approve the amendment, its passage will be secured.

The amendment is sponsored by the Florida Coalition to Protect Marriage. The largest contributor to the campaign, so far, has been the Florida Republican Party, which has donated more than $300,000 to the petition drive. Opposing the amendment are two groups: Fairness For ALL Families and Florida Red & Blue.

Although same-sex marriage is now prohibited by state law, backers of this amendment claim it is necessary to prevent the courts from overturning existing legislation. The amendment bars recognition of any “legal union” other than that between one man and one woman from being legitimized by state law, whether it is called “marriage” or the “substantial equivalent” of same.

Whatever else may be said or written about it in what promises to be a very contentious campaign, one fact is transparently obvious. This amendment will protect no marriages.

The amendment does not defend the right of heterosexual couples to marry. It makes no one’s marriage any stronger, any less likely to fail or any more likely to succeed. Heterosexual unions will receive no benefit whatever if this amendment passes, and they will incur no penalty if it fails. The authors of the bill know this. Apparently they are hoping Floridians won’t notice.

No, the aim of this amendment clearly is not to protect heterosexual marriages. Its aim is to assert a legal definition of marriage that will punish same-sex couples by denying them the legal status and the legal protections that are enjoyed by heterosexual couples. The amendment does not just prevent the legislature from enacting a law to allow gays and lesbians to marry—something that is now forbidden under state law. It also denies the legislature the ability to enact legislation permitting “civil unions” by gay and lesbian couples.

The wording of the amendment is clear, “Inasmuch as marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife, no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.”

So even if the people of Florida should decide, at some future date, to stop allowing their state to act as a cultural backwater, to join the 21st century and demand legislation that treats homosexuals as American citizens who stand before the law as equals with all others, it will be necessary to first amend the state constitution to do so.

That is the real issue here. Do we consider homosexuals to have the same rights as all other American citizens? If we do, then how can we deny homosexual couples who love one another the same right to form legal unions that are granted to heterosexual couples? Under what legal theory that is not a travesty of the very idea of equal justice before the law can we allow such bigotry to be enshrined in our state constitution?

A large part of the objection to homosexuality in our culture stems from the religious opinions of some citizens. While we can respect the right of those who hold such opinions to conduct their own lives accordingly, those opinions cannot be controlling on society as a whole. Religious dogma should never be the sole justification for legislation in a secular society.

After all, the same book of the Bible that condemns homosexuality as an abomination, Leviticus, also says it is an abomination to eat shellfish. What’s next, a state-mandated boycott of Red Lobster restaurants?

The proposed amendment does not protect anyone’s marriage. It simply enshrines bigotry in our state constitution. Shame on us if we allow that to happen.

© 2008 by George A. Ricker

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