Want to know what the new “values” issue is for the Republicans to try and bolster the right wing vote for the 2006 elections is? Look to Texas who will test whether gay marriage can martial the forces. The State of Texas has placed a proposal to ban gay marriage and civil unions on the ballot as a constitutional amendment.

After the Massachusetts Supreme Court made a decision that said the state could not prevent gay marriage, conservatives and the religious right went over the edge. Instantly conservative politicians called for a constitutional amendment to only allow men and women to wed. Preachers on the religious right assured us the country was rushing to the doors of hell opened by radical judges. The thought that gay marriage is a threat to the sanctity of marriage and of course part of the grand homosexual agenda is one of the grandest frauds ever proposed.

Legal Marriage Vs. Civil Marriage

First of all lets look at what marriage is and what it isn’t. Marriage has two meanings 1) a legal contract between two people outlining certain legal privileges and obligations and 2) a spiritual pledge of two souls. If you want to get legally married you must go to your county courthouse, pay a fee, find a couple of witnesses and a person authorized by the state. Now that can be just about anyone including a judge, a justice of the peace or a minister even if he/she got his or her ordainment by mail. The act that makes the license binding is that both parties sign the document, date it and get it witnessed like any other contract. Spiritual beliefs are not required to become legally married, it is a civil contract, nor can a minister performing a ceremony legally marry anyone without a state license.

This requirement of a state sanctioned contract between consenting adults is to protect the property interests of the partners, children and potential heirs, and other legally interested parties. The state also has an interest in the civil rights of those involved. The most dramatic changes have been in the protection of the rights of women and children. Changes such as the outlawing of women or children being forced into arranged marriages against their will and other changes in legal status (women and children were once considered chattel or property) have been paramount in the march towards freedom and human equality.

The spiritual act of marriage occurs based on a statement of love and commitment of two people to each other before their loved ones and the universal power of their choice. This may or may not involve a church but does for most people. This personal commitment is the “sacredness” of marriage. It has nothing to do with the civil contract.

The ruling of the Massachusetts Court that started the uproar, is that the civil contract called marriage by the state between two people cannot be denied to anyone based on gender anymore then it could be on race. The genders of the parties cannot interfere legally with their ability to make a civil contract without violating the “equal treatment under the law” protection of the constitution.

While many religions require that marriage be between a man and a woman that has nothing to do with the civil contract between two people. Regardless of what Senator Rick Santorum or Rev. James Dobson believes a contract cannot be executed between a man an dog, a man and a child or a man and a donkey. The confusion comes because most states use the term “marriage” to describe what really is a “civil union”. Marriage is a civil contract that must be regulated by the state and does not require a church’s blessing. Further, no decision by the state will force churches to perform marriages for same sex couples in their church. Unfortunately, the unique history of getting a license from the state and then going through a ceremony with a minister blurs the two acts into one in the minds of most people and makes it an issue for exploitation.

The Hairy Hand

A friend of mine recently related a story he had heard about shell game operators in the 1800’s. They would glue hair in the palm of their hands. Then as they moved the shells and slid the pea from one to the other they would frequently show the palms of their hands. The mark would be so caught up in the sight of the distracting hair in the operator’s hand it would insure they would lose track of the pea and of course forfeit their money.

The decision of the Massachusetts Court, the Supreme Court ruling striking down sodomy laws and the public’s lack of understanding of the issue has given the Republicans the hairy hand issue they can exploit in each upcoming election. They think they can galvanize and get out the vote of the religious right and split Democrats to insure the reelection of Republicans and gain offices at every level.

The Republicans know that this is a successful strategy because it was one of the factors that helped George Bush Sr. win over Michael Dukakis in 1988 election. The Republicans played the race card repeatedly running advertisements showing Willie Horton an African-American murderer who was paroled and then committed another murder. This was given a voice over blaming Dukakis for being soft on crime even though he had nothing to do with the parole. In spite of the fact that crime was at historic lows, the Republican’s succeeded in scaring voters with the fear not only of crime but hooking into age old irrational fears and prejudice against black males that was embedded deeply in the country’s subconscious.

We got so tough on crime that we now have the biggest prison system in the history of the world. We rival the Soviet Gulags in the number of people we have imprisoned, half for nonviolent drug offenses. Whole rural towns in Texas now have economies built around prisons. We’re breaking the state budget with getting tough on crime and so we need a new Willy Horton. The Republicans needed someone that could be anywhere, even wilier then the “bearded terrorists”. One that is near enough to everyone to distract people from the pillaging of the national treasury, the dismantling and shipping abroad of our means of production and the growing, internal intelligence gathering, militarization of America. Hence, gays are bad, is born.

What we will see is debates where Bush and other GOP office seekers challenge their opponents to defend “the sanctity of marriage” by supporting an national anti-gay constitutional amendment, which the Republicans know will never pass. It has been a nasty celebration of gay bashing that has rivaled the GOP’s fight against integration and the passage of voting rights for African-Americans in the 60’s. In historical Republican form, the Texas State Republican Platform not only would deny gay marriage it would also deny civil unions, criminalize gay sexual acts and prohibit criminal and civil penalties against those who would openly discriminate against gays.

The sad part about this is not that most of the conservatives are anti-gay (they are) but to them it is just an issue that they can exploit to divide the country over fears born of ignorance. They are willing to drum up new Jim Crow laws impairing the goal of freedom for all in America for political advantage. Their goal is to use the hairy hand trick to distract the public from any problems with the economy, war deaths in Iraq, the missing WMDs, the Patriot Act, the transfer of wealth, the gutting of the environment and social programs, the massive federal debt, the trade deficit, and on and on and on.

The Sanctity of Marriage

How does passing a law that prevents civil unions between consenting adults interfere with the sanctity of marriage? Religious ceremony certainly hasn’t insured the success of marriage. 40% of all marriages end in divorce, 50% of all children in the United States will spend some time in a single parent home.

I haven’t seen any data showing that millions of men and women are waiting for gay marriage to be approved so they can leave their heterosexual spouse to marry their gay lovers. All current research shows that homosexuality is a complex combination of physiological and psychological factors that the individuals so oriented have little or no control over. Ask any homosexual and their journey is usually a painful one of accepting themselves the way they are, no one seeks out an alternative “lifestyle” just to suffer discriminatory treatment all their life.

The so-called homosexual agenda is a quest for equal treatment, not an attempt to recruit people to the homosexual lifestyle. Those who talk of a homosexual agenda need to look up homophobia in the dictionary. One of the more ridiculous arguments I heard on a national TV program was that we have to protect and promote procreation. Does anybody really believe that people will stop procreating if we don’t pass a “Marriage Protection Amendment”. We can’t even get people to wait until they are grown up and married to procreate. The last I looked we were procreating ourselves into a global crises. Texas has the second highest teenage birth rate in the country (Mississippi is first) and Corpus one of the highest rates in Texas.

What Civil Union Really Means

What gays are asking for is to be able to make the same legal commitments to each other as any other couple that love each other. Can you imagine if you lived with your spouse for 10, 15, 20 years or more and you weren’t allowed to provide health insurance for them, to be able to make decisions for them if they are sick, to determine how they should be treated in death, to inherit jointly owned property without question. That is just some of the discrimination that same sex couples face.

My brother died at age 38 in 1992 of AIDs related illness. My parents after much self questioning and education had accepted his sexual orientation and the fact that he had AIDs. He died in our mother’s arms. My parents were devastated and numb with grief. My sister who is a right wing evangelical Christian swung in and took over. Even though she rejected him in life, would not allow him around his nephews and told him he “would burn in Hell”, she decided to control the events around his burial.

A ceremony was held in the church of her choice, with a service performed by a minister who believed my brother was a mortal sinner and would burn in hell. No mention was made that he was gay. No mention was made that he raised more then a million dollars for the AIDS Quilt Project. No mention was made of the many newly diagnosed HIV/AIDs patients he talked to in order to share some of the peace and hope that he had found in his own spirituality after being diagnosed. No mention was made of the thousands volunteer hours he donated, sometimes from a hospital bed, for HIV/AIDs related education and causes. His friends were made to not feel welcome and left early. I am grateful that he had buried his long-term partner two years before who had died from AIDs related illness. His partner would have been excluded, in the cruelest manner, from participating in the most intimate process of love, burying and grieving a loved one.

So when you say you support the sanctity of marriage please allow everyone to decide what that means for him or her. If your marriage is threatened because gays can marry it doesn’t have anything to do with them. Think about it, no one should be denied the full benefits of a loving relationship.

John M. Kelley is a teacher, philosopher, writer, artist, political activist, singer of ballads, rebellious Irishman and agent for change who worries daily about the world he is leaving for his grandchildren. His blog is at www.mytown.ca/johnkelley