Last edited: November 22, 2003

Conservatives Have Lost Fight Against Gays

The Plain Dealer, July 6, 2003
1801 Superior Ave., Cleveland, Ohio 44114
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By Tom Brazaitis

What was surprising about the decision in Lawrence et al v. Texas was not that the Supreme Court struck down the Texas anti-sodomy law, but that it took so long for the court to recognize gays as people.

The court finally undid its 1986 ruling upholding a law in Georgia and 24 other states at the time that allowed the government to invade the private behavior of consenting adults by criminalizing same-sex lovemaking—a decision as onerous in its way as the infamous Dred Scott decision legitimizing slavery.

By reversing itself, the court caught up with the commonsense wisdom of a majority of Americans who have come to recognize that homosexuality is not a lifestyle choice but a variant of birth that is as natural as heterosexuality, though less common.

As many experts speculated, and Justice Antonin Scalia warned in his angry dissenting opinion, the next logical step is for states and the federal government to recognize gay marriage or, at the least, same-sex civil unions.

This kind of talk has set off alarms among religious conservatives in the country and energized their champions in Congress to bulldoze another hole in the wall separating church and state.

Sen. Bill Frist, the Republican majority leader, was quick to endorse a proposed constitutional amendment saying that “marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and woman.”

“I very much feel that marriage is a sacrament that has traditionally in our western values been defined as between a man and woman,” he said.

A sacrament, of course, is a Christian rite that should have no place in man-made laws that respect religious differences by not promoting any one doctrine.

Besides, exalting traditional matrimony as Frist has done, by saying it has God’s blessing, does not do God any favors since half of U.S. marriages end in divorce.

The six members of the House who introduced the constitutional amendment represent a variety of beliefs—Assembly of God, Catholic, United Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran and just plain Christian—but there is not unanimity even among Christians about same-sex unions.

Conservative Christians interpret various passages in the Bible as forbidding homosexual behavior. Liberal Christians tend to give more weight to scientific research on human sexuality over the last half-century than to the strict biblical interpretation.

Nobody who has followed the political career of George W. Bush can have any doubt where he stands on this issue—on what he believes is God’s side, of course. Yet, even though the court test originated in Bush’s home state of Texas, the Bush administration did not take sides in the case. As for the constitutional amendment, Bush says he is leaving that up to the lawyers, adding, “What I do support is a notion that marriage is between a man and a woman.”

Clearly, the president has chosen to walk the line between religious zealots who want vengeance against the sexual infidels and suburban soccer moms who value compassion and understanding in human dealings. He needs the support of both to be re-elected.

Bush and Co. would do well to follow the lead of roughly 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies (Wal-Mart is the most recent) that grant benefits to gay couples on a par with married partners. These companies have not “signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda” as Scalia accused the court majority of doing, but have acknowledged the need to recruit and retain gay workers.

Newsweek’s provocative cover story on gay marriage quotes Kevin Cathcart, executive director of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, which has masterminded gay-rights legal strategy, as saying he has to deal with the “ick factor” about homosexual acts that makes some heterosexuals squirm.

For those people, the Supreme Court had a simple message: Get over it.

Gays still have a long way to go before they are recognized as normal under the law. For instance, only 11 states permit same-sex couples to adopt children, although there is no evidence that being raised by gays influences children’s own sexuality.

Canada recently joined Belgium and the Netherlands in recognizing same-sex unions, and Vermont was the first state, but won’t be the last, to do the same.

The answer to the question posed on Newsweek’s cover—“Is gay marriage next?”—is yes, sooner or later. And homophobic politicians, like their racist predecessors of a bygone era, do not dignify their prejudice by cloaking it in Bible stories.

  • Brazaitis, formerly a Plain Dealer senior editor, is a Washington columnist. Contact Tom Brazaitis at, 202-638-1366.

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