By Stephen, Andrew
New Statesman (1996) , Vol. 133, No. 4698
I have been given another warning of Armageddon: this time the very existence of the United States, I have to tell you, is in jeopardy. The warning was issued by Senator Rick Santorum, a Republican who has represented Pennsylvania since 1995. Rick is very worried by the recent rash of gay marriages in Massachusetts and San Francisco. "I would argue," he tells us, "that the future of our country hangs in the balance because the future of marriage hangs in the balance."
It is not only Rick who is worried. George W Bush believes that "activist judges and local officials in some parts of the country are not letting up in their efforts to redefine marriage for the rest of America". The 43rd US president goes on to tell us that "defenders of traditional marriage" must not "flag in their efforts". Bill Frist, the Republican leader in the Senate, adds: "This issue is not going away."
We have continuing bloodshed in Iraq, warnings that the United States will suffer another catastrophic strike by al-Qaeda, jobs continually disappearing, healthcare costs rising--and the Bush-Cheney duo have finally hit on the issue they think may save them in the 2 November election: same-sex marriage. Focus groups and private polls, apparently, suggested to the Republicans that the issue could get them a lot of traction with undecided voters. Even John Kerry and John Edwards, the supposed "liberals" on the Democratic ticket, have now said unequivocally that they are opposed to gay marriage--but they do favour civil unions, which bestow many of the legal rights of marriage.
The Bush-Cheney team, determined to use this weapon of mass distraction on the American electorate, are now wittering on endlessly about "values" and "family values"--which Kerry and Edwards, we are thus led to believe, do not have. Republicans were given the message that they should make an issue of gay marriage between now and the election, despite the inconvenient little fact that Cheney has a campaigning lesbian daughter. This has led Lynne Cheney, Dick's wife, to differ publicly from what Dick says.
But so far the Republicans have botched their launch of this particular weapon. Family law, embracing the whole issue of gay marriage and civil unions, is normally decided by individual states rather than by the federal government--hence the local legalisation of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts and San Francisco. To clobber this long-standing practice once and for all, the Bush administration decided that it would get over all those pesky little local laws by introducing an amendment to the US constitution. The motion for the amendment was duly introduced to the Senate, defining marriage as solely the "union of a man and a woman", adding that marriage should not be "conferred upon any union other than the union of a man and a woman."
The motion, however, died a miserably slow death during four days in the Senate. Because the Democrats manoeuvred the Senate timetable so that a procedural motion was voted on rather than the substantive issue, Senators Kerry and Edwards did not return to Washington for the vote-a trap that the Republicans thought they had successfully sprung, forcing Kerry and Edwards to oppose the amendment. But six Republicans, including John McCain, voted against--and thereby made sure the motion would die.
The issue of gay marriage remains an emotive issue that Bush-Cheney plan to exploit in the election campaign. But any possibility that they could actually have legislation passed before election day is a dream that lies in tatters. …