Suddenly, Some of the Old Arguments Don't Work

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Suddenly, Some of the Old Arguments Don't Work

Connecticut's House of Representatives passed legislation yesterday that would make the state the 2nd to establish civil unions for same-sex couples, and the first to do so without being directed by a state court.

The state Senate easily approved a similar bill last week, and the Washington Post reports that Republican Gov. Jodi Rell said she will sign a civil unions bill (which contains language defining “marriage” as a union of one man and one woman).

As the Post article notes:
… Connecticut's push toward civil unions cuts against a national backlash that has followed the legalization of such relationships in Vermont in 2000, and of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts last year. Unlike Connecticut, court rulings prompted the changes in those states.
Indeed, suddenly, two of the major lines of argument used by opponents of same-sex unions simply don’t apply to Connecticut.

First, there’s the “usurping legislative authority” argument, which was made by numerous conservative critics of the Massachusetts ruling, including Boston Archbishop Sean O'Malley:
“[O’Malley] criticized the ‘overly activist’ Massachusetts justices who wrote the gay marriage decision. The court seems determined to ‘usurp the rightful role’ of the legislature, O'Malley said.”
And conservative writer John Plecnik has opined:
“Countless conservatives fear the quickening onset of judicial activism ... The unforgettable decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Court to force their state legislature to rewrite the law and legalize gay marriage is exhibit number one. Am I the only one left who still believes in three co-equal branches of government and the separation of powers? Judges ordering legislators to pass laws is as blatantly unconstitutional as congress writing court opinions.”
But this line of argument doesn’t work in Connecticut where the Legislature has acted without being pushed or prodded by any court.

Second, there’s the “respect public opinion” argument, made by conservative author Don Feder. Commenting last year on Congress’ failure to approve an anti-gay marriage amendment to the Constitution, Feder whined:
“On no issue is there a greater divergence between public opinion and the agenda of the elite … than on the future of matrimony.”
And an attorney for an anti-gay marriage group in Massachusetts has written:
“I personally appeared before the [Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court] four times … to warn that if they go against the will of the people, it could change our whole political structure in the state.”
But as the Post article reported, polls show that Connecticut residents favor civil unions for gay couples.

So, there you have it. Unable to apply the usurpation and public opinion arguments, conservatives who wish to blast developments in Connecticut are left to only two arguments:
  • the ludicrous warning that heterosexual marriages will somehow be weakened by permitting same-sex unions, and
  • the fundamentalist-laden moral argument that, to borrow a line from the film Gone With the Wind, "it ain't fittin' ... it just ain't fittin'."

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