Recent events related to the issue of same-sex marriage didn’t so much change as reveal the still evolving status of this controversial idea as a political issue.
President Bush offered a carefully worded defense of “the sanctity of marriage” in his State of the Union address, and Ohio lawmakers approved a measure declaring that same-sex marriages are “against the strong public policy of this state,” and prohibiting benefits for the unmarried partners of state employees.
President Bush’s comment was an artful straddle, an attempt to bolster support among tradition-oriented conservatives without completely alienating homosexual voters. He walked up to the edge of endorsing a constitutional amendment to declare marriage to be only between a man and a woman, but spoke only of a “constitutional process” and only if activist judges “insist on forcing their arbitrary will upon the people.”
That brought praise from some religious-right organizations and skepticism from others — and criticism but not a clean break from the gay Republican Log Cabin Club. While the issue is simmering, it seems those intensely interested in it are still deciding just what they want to do next.
(Color us appalled that this is a political issue at all. If we had our druthers the government wouldn’t be in the position of sanctioning any kind of marriage, leaving it to families and religious institutions.)
The legislation in Ohio reinforces the idea that the interests are still maneuvering. The fact that one more state has weighed in — this time in favor of man-woman marriage — will likely reduce the perception that a constitutional amendment is necessary.
Or, as Roger Pilon, who heads up constitutional studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, put it, “The same conservative impulse that seeks to preserve marriage as it is would seek to preserve the Constitution as it is unless changing it is … absolutely necessary.”
All sides are also waiting until mid-May, the deadline under the recent Massachusetts court decision for the legislature to authorize access to marriage licenses for same-sex couples. What happens then will tell us more about the political lay of the land. And if Ohio’s new law is challenged and overturned, the political landscape will change yet again.
For now, the politicians are following the polls, which show most Americans opposed to allowing same-sex marriage but also opposed to a constitutional amendment. Expect more lip service to and from both sides but little real action.