Wednesday, December 20, 2006

COLUMN -- DFL fought off same-sex marriage amendment, but what about that law?

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:43 AM |  

Friday, December 20, 2006

Once upon a time, nearly every high school student read Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" and probably memorized at least the opening lines of Marc Antony's funeral oration ("I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him"). In his speech, Antony subtly sways the crowd against Caesar's assassins ("all honorable men"), by reflecting their charges of political ambition against Caesar back on their own obvious ambition for power.

Would that an orator of Antony's skill might speak at burial of the debate over same-sex marriage.

Given its druthers, the DFL-controlled Legislature would prefer to bury the debate along with the proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage, which the DFL buried in Senate committee last session. I oppose the amendment. But for the DFL to kill the debate without questioning the wisdom of the current Minnesota law banning same-sex marriage may be, for same-sex couples, "the unkindest cut of all."

It was the DFL that decried an ambitious Republican for divisive rhetoric portending the downfall of Western civilization if Adam married Steve or Anna married Eve. The DFL criticized a "national-ambition-denyin' " governor for a rant that included criticism of "gay-marriage-supportin' " liberals. It criticized the ambition of a Republican Party that would exploit same-sex marriage as a get-out-the-vote wedge issue.

It was the DFL that proclaimed it fought the good fight to keep the Minnesota Constitution free from what it alternately described as discrimination and homophobia. A ban on same-sex marriage, said the DFL, is embedded in Minnesota law, which protects us from same-sex couples. The DFL told us that, and as a Marc Antony might point out, the DFL is an honorable party.

It was Republicans, said the DFL, who played the discrimination card. It was Republicans who said an amendment was necessary to deny the protections of marriage to same-sex couples. It was Republicans and their anti-gay amendment who said children raised by same-sex couples don't deserve the same stability and security marriage provides other children. It was Republicans who wanted an amendment marginalizing same-sex couples; so said the DFL.

The DFL that would have no part of any such amendment. The DFL said Minnesota law was good enough. And one of its leaders alleged he had it on good authority that the state Supreme Court would not touch the law, so the law was safe.

Now, the DFL believes, the issue of same-sex marriage should be dropped. But if an amendment banning same-sex marriage is wrong, is the law the amendment would strengthen wrong as well? The DFL apparently questions whether that distinction is important enough to keep open a debate few want to have.

With polling figures showing significant public opposition to same-sex marriage, it is probably unfair to expect a DFL-controlled Legislature to face unpopular political repercussions simply because it might be the right thing to do. I am probably wrong to infer that, short of an amendment banning same-sex marriage, the DFL holds a similarly discriminatory view of homosexuality as amendment supporters. It's probably partisan and cynical of me to say that the DFL supports homosexuals just enough to get their campaign contributions and no more.

As a matter of law, there is a degree of difference between an amendment banning same-sex marriage and a law banning same-sex marriage — although it may not seem that way to same-sex couples that can't marry in either case. Remember, it is the DFL making that distinction, and the DFL is an honorable party.

Some might remember a DFL Party that really did give voice to the voiceless, but that was a different time. Even Hubert Humphrey, who before it was popular stood in defense of civil rights against the tide of prejudice, would understand today's DFL reluctance to buck public opinion. The DFL can't take that risk, what with ambitious Republicans lurking in the shadows, itching to get back in power. The DFL must keep its priorities straight … so to speak.

Same-sex marriage is a messy issue. The DFL has repelled the effort to ban same-sex marriage by constitutional amendment in favor of banning same-sex marriage in law. If that be cowardice, then I guess same-sex couples should make the most of it. If same-sex marriage were more popular, the DFL would certainly support it. It's not popular, so for now, same-sex couples should be thankful that they don't have Republicans walking all over them — just Democrats walking around them.

After all, our hypothetical orator might say, the DFL is an honorable party.